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The uneasy trio

It’s possible that, like me, you think there are already quite enough jazz piano trio albums in your collection. Think again. Uneasy, the new recording by Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey, demands attention.

The realignment of the piano-bass-drums hierarchy from “piano with rhythm accompaniment” to a full three-way conversation of equals has been going on for decades, and Uneasy is about as elevated as the format currently gets. Listen to the opener, “Children of Flint”, to appreciate the level of interaction between three musicians with virtuoso-level skills and giant imaginations. It sounds lyrical, even simple. But just concentrate on the astonishing touch displayed by each of the trio, whether on piano keys, bass strings, drums or cymbals, and the sense of three seamlessly interlocking and interdependent components.

As you work your way through the 10 tracks — eight compositions by Iyer, plus Geri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” — you’ll also notice a complete absence of ego-projection. No one is showing off. On the sole standard, it’s easiest to hear how far Iyer can take the line of piano-playing founded by Bud Powell. Oh displays the deep sense of swing, nimble melodic imagination and beautiful sound of a 21st-century Paul Chambers. Sorey creates a momentum at once light but deep, exploiting a combination of technique and intellect that redefines the investigation of rhythm.

Recorded in a studio in Mount Vernon, NY three months before pandemic arrived, the album comes with a cover photograph of the Statue of Liberty seen through mist and against clouds. In his sleeve note, Iyer writes that Uneasy was originally the title of a collaborative piece with the choreographer Karole Armitage in 2011, exploring “the instabilities that we then sensed beneath the surface of things… the emerging anxiety within American life. A decade later, as systems teeter and crumble, the word feels like a brutal understatement.”

That heightened disquiet, however, remains implied. You’re not thinking about the end of the world. You’re remembering how even the darkest of times can’t extinguish such astonishing creativity. One of the records of the year, no doubt.

* Uneasy is on ECM Records. The photographs of (from top) Iyer, Oh and Sorey are from the CD’s booklet and were taken by Craig Marsden.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bill White #

    Thanks. Definitely one for me.

    April 11, 2021
  2. Mick Steels #

    Enjoyable session not particularly enamoured with the way the bass was recorded though.
    I know using names like Chambers and Powell is a way of describing the music but it does raise the level of expectation to a pretty unreachable plateau

    April 12, 2021
  3. Paul Tickell #

    Yes, maybe the bass goes AWOL on ‘Children of Flint’ but what great interaction between drums and piano: reaches the plateau for me,,,,

    April 13, 2021
    • GRAHAM RICHARD ROBERTS #

      I agree that when names such as Powell and Chambers are referenced expectations will be high. But my expectations of this trio are already pretty high, based on the exalted level of performance achieved when Vijay Iyer played London’s Wigmore Hall in 2017, accompanied by Tyshawn Sorey and Stephan Crump on bass; unforgettable concert – can’t wait to hear the new album with Linda May Han Oh on bass.

      April 13, 2021
  4. I’ve finally got this, and am very pleased you recommended it. I too saw Iyer, Sorey and Stephan Crump at the Wigmore in 2017 and was knocked out. Stunning stuff.

    April 19, 2021
  5. Trevor Barre #

    I got this after reading Richard’s recommendation (RW is rarely wrong!). It is indeed a wonderful recording, in the post-Bill Evans Trio ‘tradition’. References to Chambers and Powell are fine – as an amateur writer, I am almost always drawn to comparisons, in order to convey my impressions to readers about what they can expect to hear.
    I also hear Andrew Hill and McCoy Tyner in these tracks. Bobo Stenson even. A big thank you to Richard for making me delve into Iyer’s work. I do wonder, though, whether there is a struggle, for the listener, around hearing past the ‘ECM Sound’? Also notable is the album’s cover. (VERY generic ECM, even given the unusual positioning, in the frame, of a famous/infamous concrete, in both senses of the word, object,) Every artist recording for this label seems to battle against being subsumed by the label’s monolithic sonic ‘smothering’.
    Oh well, we should worry?

    May 1, 2021

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