While the Human narrative ends with the creation of Man – ostensibly the ultimate in perfection; the very image of Him that created everything – human history is far from over. The Vijay Iyer Sextet’s 2017 album, Far From Over examines one aspect of this history – that of what Robert Burns once called “man’s inhumanity to man” in his extraordinary poem “Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge” (1784) – applying the music-effect to it in an attempt to mitigate pain, assuage or assign guilt, and/or suggest the way forward. ‘Suggestions’ are all that we can hope for at any stage in human history and, desperate as we are – or should be, at any rate – we ought to be taking help from anyone offering it.
The Vijay Iyer Sextet is offering much more than a mere ‘suggestion’, of course. Music is one of the oldest remedies. Of all the arts, it reaches farthest and deepest into the body and the psyche, to soothe – as The Bard once wrote – the savage breast. And this is powerful medicine – this music by Mr Iyer and his ensemble. The pianist – for he is, here, first among equals – leads his party like a fabled pied piper deep into the endless ocean of sound, with rippling arpeggios and nervy glissandos, surfacing with the elements to make this music as significant as it can ever be: polyrhythms from the source of all life – Mother Africa and polyphonies from the source, not Europe as music historians would have us believe, but from India.
The music takes shape, melded together by this fine sextet by Vijay Iyer, Graham Haynes and Tyshawn Sorey as focal points. The other musicians, though not significantly lesser contributors – are meant to revolve like planetary satellites around these three figures. To Vijay Iyer belongs the essential conception of this music, as bringer-in-chief of melody and harmony; Mr Sorey’s thunderous drumming creates the polyrhythmic base and Graham Haynes, by virtue of his being – one so altogether unique – is the cosmic force that seems to replicate the misty breath of the Divine, howling as he does on cornet, or applying a salve with flugelhorn, and providing an all-round stratospheric playground for the music with his electronic manipulations that expand the narrative way beyond even Mr Iyer’s multiple lines.
Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Mark Shim on tenor saxophone and Stephan Crump play both the principal characters and – together with Vijay Iyer, Mr Sorey and Mr Haynes – the rest of the (collective) in this contemporary Passion Play. Along the way we encounter people, such as “Amiri Baraka” who kept us all awake when our brains were being addled into a deathly slumber, dead to man’s inhumanity to the black man; who, were he alive today would spit brimstone and breathe fire as this music does in praise of him. Immediately following is “Into Action” and “Wake” – both with deep bass line melodies that rumble in tones of profound solemnity and are highly charged and intensely dynamic. The drama of everything ends in “Threnody”, a desperately death-laden piece, deliberately provocative and symbolic of our times.
Track list – 1: Poles; 2: Far from Over; 3: Nope; 4: End of the Tunnel; 5: Down to the Wire; 6: For Amiri Baraka; 7: Into Action; 8: Wake; 9: Good on the Ground; 10: Threnody
Personnel – Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes; Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn and electronics; Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Stephan Crump: contrabass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums
Released – 2017
Label – ECM Records
Runtime – 57:55