CSO’s MusicNow series celebrates the meditative work of pianist and composer Vijay Iyer | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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CSO’s MusicNow series celebrates the meditative work of pianist and composer Vijay Iyer

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Earlier this year pianist and composer Vijay Iyer released Far From Over (ECM), a sextet recording whose sturdy but flexible originals reaffirm his jazz bona fides while Tyshawn Sorey’s explosive drumming fractures their swing. Iyer’s arrangements extract an orchestral splendor from the group he assembled for the album—Sorey, saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim, cornetist Graham Haynes, and bassist Stephan Crump—and his probing, corkscrewing melodies demonstrate the influence of his mentor Andrew Hill, albeit processed into his own language. As exhilarating as Far From Over is, though—as good as anything in the pianist’s rapidly expanding discography—Iyer’s appearance tonight in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNow series instead showcases two works that have little in common with the music on the album. Iyer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith will give the local debut of their stunning duo, performing A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, the centerpiece of their 2016 album of the same name. This shape-shifting seven-movement suite responds to an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi, who often blends abstraction and architectural precision in line-based drawings; Iyer’s performance combines two elements that recur throughout his work as he shifts between lyrical meditation and voluble, brittle interaction with Smith. The concert will also feature the local premiere of “Time, Place, Action,” a limber chamber piece for piano and string quartet whose springy interplay and spry lyricism sometimes give way to brooding rumination—but even at those most introspective moments, Iyer drives it forward with his irrepressible rhythmic thrust.   v

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