Break Stuff

Vijay Iyer Trio

EN / DE

“Break Stuff” is what happens after formal elements have been addressed. Vijay Iyer calls the break “a span of time in which to act. It’s the basis for breakdowns, breakbeats, and break dancing… it can be the moment when everything comes to life.” A number of the pieces here are breakdowns of other Iyer constructions. Some are from a suite premiered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, some derive from Open City, a collaboration with novelist Teju Cole and large ensemble. The trio energetically recasts everything it touches. “Hood” is a tribute to Detroit techno pioneer Robert Hood. On “Work”, Vijay pays homage to his “number one hero”, Thelonious Monk. “Countdown” reconsiders the classic Coltrane tune inside a rhythmic framework inspired by West African music. “Mystery Woman” is driven by compound pulses which owe a debt to South Indian drumming. Fast moving and quick-witted, the group has developed a strong musical identity of its own, with an emphasis on what Iyer calls “co-constructing”, exploring all the dynamics of playing together. Yet the three players also get abundant solo space and, in a reflective moment at the album’s centre, Iyer plays a moving version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count” alone. Break Stuff, recorded in June 2014 at New York’s Avatar Studio and produced by Manfred Eicher, is the third ECM release from Vijay Iyer. It follows the chamber music recording Mutations and the film-and-music project Radhe radhe: Rites of Holi. The Vijay Iyer Trio is touring in the US and Europe in February and March 2015.

‘Break Stuff’ ist das, was in der Musik passiert, wenn die formalen Fragestellungen geregelt sind. Für Vijay Iyer ist ein Break “eine Zeitspanne, innerhalb derer gehandelt werden muss. Die Basis für Breakdowns, Breakbeats und Breakdance – es kann der Moment sein, wenn in all diese Dinge Leben kommt.“
Einige der Stücke hier sind Breakdowns anderer Iyer-Konstruktionen. Einige stammen aus einer Suite, die ihre Premiere im New Yorker Museum of Modern Art hatte, andere aus Open City, einer Zusammenarbeit mit dem Romancier Teju Cole und einem größeren Ensemble. Das Trio formt alles, was es hier anfasst, voller Energie um. „Hood“ ist ein Tribut an den Detroit-Techno-Pionier Robert Hood. Auf „Work“ erweist Iyer seinem „Helden Nummer eins“, Thelonious Monk seine Ehrerbietung. „Countdown“ denkt den gleichnamigen Coltrane-Klassiker innerhalb eines von Westafrikanischer Musik inspirierten rhythmischen Rahmens neu. „Mystery Woman“ wird von, auf zusammengesetzten Metren basierenden Pulsschlägen angetrieben, die Vorbildern in der südindischen Trommelkunst einiges verdanken.
Von je her schnell und geistesgegenwärtig, hat die Gruppe eine starke und eigenständige musikalische Identität entwickelt, mit einer Vorliebe für das, was Iyer „co-constructing“ nennt, die Erforschung aller Dynamiken im Zusammenspiel. Bei all dem bekommen alle drei Musiker reichlich Raum zum Solieren, und in einem nachdenklichen Moment im Zentrum des Albums spielt Iyer solo eine berührende Version von Billy Strayhorns „Blood Count“. Break Stuff, eingespielt im Juni 2014 im New Yorker Avatar Studio und von Manfred Eicher produziert, ist Vijay Iyers dritte ECM-Veröffentlichung. Sie folgt auf die Kammermusik-Aufnahme Mutations und das Film-und-Musik-Projekt Radhe radhe: Rites of Holi. Im Februar und März 2015 tourt das Vijay Iyer Trio durch die USA und Europa.
Featured Artists Recorded

June 2014, Avatar Studios, New York

Original Release Date

16.01.2015

  • 1Starlings
    (Vijay Iyer)
    03:52
  • 2Chorale
    (Vijay Iyer)
    04:35
  • 3Diptych
    (Vijay Iyer)
    06:47
  • 4Hood
    (Vijay Iyer)
    06:10
  • 5Work
    (Thelonious Monk)
    06:14
  • 6Taking Flight
    (Vijay Iyer)
    07:15
  • 7Blood Count
    (Billy Strayhorn)
    04:34
  • 8Break Stuff
    (Vijay Iyer)
    05:26
  • 9Mystery Woman
    (Vijay Iyer)
    06:21
  • 10Geese
    (Vijay Iyer)
    06:38
  • 11Countdown
    (John Coltrane, Vijay Iyer)
    05:57
  • 12Wrens
    (Thelonious Monk, Vijay Iyer)
    06:47
Break Stuff features Vijay Iyer’s long-running and widely-acclaimed trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, a band in existence for eleven years now. “We keep learning from each other and from experiences and try to set challenges for ourselves so that growth is part of the equation.” It’s a group whose musical language is informed by more than the jazz piano trio tradition. While Iyer acknowledges the influence of, for instance, Ahmad Jamal, Andrew Hill and Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle album (with Charles Mingus and Max Roach) upon his own trio aesthetics, he points out that his group has also been inspired by “James Brown’s rhythm section, Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, Miles Davis’s rhythm section, Charlie Parker’s rhythm section, soul music from the 1970s, electronic music and hip-hop from very recent times…” The list goes on. The piece “Hood” on the new recording is a tribute to Detroit minimal techno producer and DJ Robert Hood. “He did all this really interesting music with numerical patterning – different rhythms unfolding through each other, but still in a very clear dance music framework, very textural and sound-oriented. You hear the evolution of timbre. It became a point of reference for us, to see if we could capture some of that spirit in a purely acoustic framework.”

As for the album title, “Break Stuff” is what transpires after formal elements have been addressed. Vijay Iyer calls the break “a span of time in which to act. It’s the basis for breakdowns, break-beats, and break dancing... it can be the moment when everything comes to life.” A number of the pieces here are breakdowns of other Iyer constructions. Some are from a Break Stuff suite premiered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, some derive from Open City, a collaboration with Nigerian-born writer Teju Cole and large ensemble. The trio energetically recasts almost everything it touches, but on “Work”, Vijay pays a disciple’s faithful homage to his “number one hero of all time”, Thelonious Monk. “There’s something very tactile about ‘Work’. It’s like you’re putting your hands in the exact position that Monk put his hands. What did it feel like to be that person and come up with figures like that? Many Monk tunes are peculiar, but this one’s especially irregular. We altered the form only slightly. I just added some blank spaces to reflect on what’s going on in the song.”

“Countdown” reconsiders the classic Giant Steps era Coltrane tune inside a rhythmic framework inspired by West African music and in particular by the drumming of Brice Wassy, a formative influence for Marcus Gilmore. “I think about John Coltrane every day,” says Iyer. “He’s such a towering figure who showed us so much in such a short time. In some ways we are all always paying tribute to him.”

“Blood Count”, the last piece of music written by Billy Strayhorn, is played solo by Vijay. “There’s something very profound and emotionally overwhelming about that piece, partly because you can hear Strayhorn contemplating his own mortality. I’d been a big fan of the Duke Ellington album And His Mother Called Him Bill, a posthumous tribute to Strayhorn, where Johnny Hodges does a heart rending version of that song.”

“Mystery Woman”, originally part of the Break Stuff suite and sharing a scalar figure with the title track, is driven by compound pulses which owe a debt to the mathematics of South Indian drumming and a mridangam rhythm shown to Iyer by Rajna Swaminathan. “Basically I tried to translate what she was playing onto the piano, put notes to it and turned it into a piece.”

The three ‘bird pieces’ on this album – “Starlings”, “Geese”, “Wrens” are from the Open City project, loosely based on Teju Cole’s novel: “This sequence of passages is focussing on birds of New York, and it opens up themes about migration, about immigration, about difference. These alternative perspectives on the city, from inhabitants who aren’t listened to, generally, become an interesting outline in the book.” As these recorded versions are reductions from large ensemble work, “there is a lot of space in them, also because they are somehow about flight and were meant to live with text. This again becomes a ‘break’, an empty space in which things can happen. It has this feeling of potential that I like, and it falls on the listener to complete it.

“The logic of repurposing has always been part of what the trio does: we take something that wasn’t meant for our format … and just shoehorn it in. And that leads us somewhere that is new for us. The feeling of discovery gives it a certain energy.”

Vijay Iyer, Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore have played together a great deal over the last decade and more, but they’ve also maintained many other activities in parallel.
“Marcus is sideman to the stars – playing with Chick Corea, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Steve Coleman, Flying Lotus, loads of people.” Gilmore has most recently been heard in ECM contexts with the Mark Turner Quartet on Lathe of Heaven and on David Virelles’ Mbókò. “And Stephan is very active in collaborating with a great many people on the scene in New York. He works on projects with his wife [singer-songwriter] Jen Chapin, and composes a lot for his own groups. So when we regroup, something else has been in our ears. That gives us fresh perspectives on the material and the dynamics we’ve established among ourselves.”

Break Stuff, recorded in June 2014 at New York’s Avatar Studio and produced by Manfred Eicher, is the third ECM release from Vijay Iyer. It follows the chamber music recording Mutations and the film-and-music project Radhe radhe: Rites of Holi.
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 September 14 Arts Westchester White Plains NY, United States
2024 September 25 Bimhuis Amsterdam, Netherlands
2024 September 26 Handelsbeurs Concertzaal Gent, Belgium
2024 October 02 Enjoy Jazz Festival Ludwigshafen, Germany
2024 October 07 EnjoyJazz Karlstorbahnhof Heidelberg, Germany
2024 November 16 Kennedy Center Washington DC, United States