Vijay Iyer/Craig Taborn: The Transitory Poems (ECM 2644)

The Transitory Poems

The Transitory Poems

Vijay Iyer piano
Craig Taborn piano
Recorded live March 12, 2018
at the concert hall of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 15, 2019

The duo of pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, documented on this March 2018 live recording at Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy of Music, came out of an involvement in Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory. In that context they balanced prewritten knotwork with improvisational unraveling and acted as likeminded catalysts for spontaneous composition.

The opening “Life Line (Seven Tensions)” bears an appropriate subtitle, which, by gentle force of suggestion, allows one to imagine the physiological give and take required to bring this music to fruition. Interplays between passages of both intense abstraction and synchronicity feel as much indicative of where Iyer and Taborn came from as where they are going. With actorly sense of space they mold the stage as inspirational substance. They move as if stationary, posing as if never settling for one meaning.

Iyer Taborn
(Photo credit: Monica Jane Frisell)

Although subsequent tracks have their distinctions, as a whole they form an album of immense coherence. This didn’t stop the musicians from hearing much of what they rendered as impromptu panegyrics for legends lost that same year. “Sensorium,” for Jack Whitten, evokes the artist’s complex inner worlds and fractal obsessions; “Clear Monolith,” for Muhal Richard Abrams, allows light to pass through its latticed notes; and “Luminous Brew,” for Cecil Taylor, boils highs and lows over a campfire until their ingredients are indistinguishable. But nowhere is the feeling of dedication so palpable as in Geri Allen’s “When Kabuya Dances,” which crystallizes themes hinted at in a preceding improvisation and leaves listeners suspended far above where they started.

Beyond assertions of technical skill, Iyer and Taborn are purveyors of the metaphysical, listening more than making. Whether in sporadic (“Kairòs”) or rhythmically-driven (“Shake Down”) dialects, they speak in a supremely translatable language. This, if anything, is what makes these transitory poems more than freely made: rather, they’re made free.

(This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available for download here.)

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