RECORD REVIEW: Vijay Iyer Sextet's 'Far From Over'

Downbeat darling reaches beyond comfort zone with new ensemble

Far From Over

VIJAY IYER SEXTET: 'Far From Over'Courtesy ECM

As a skilled improviser, pianist Vijay Iyer shines brightest when performing in his usual solo or trio settings. Those musical environments are more conducive to his organic style of playing, allowing his momentum to create and shape his own sound and aesthetic. But on his latest album, Far From Over, Iyer steps into another realm of jazz, adding saxophones, cornet, and electronics, expanding his trio (featuring Stephan Crump on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums) to a six-piece ensemble.

Tenor saxophonist Mark Shim swings and skronks on the title track; even powerhouse drummer Sorey gets into the act with his explosive solo in "Good on the Ground." At times, Sorey can be overwhelming in Iyer's trio, but his bombastic style seems much better suited here. Despite the tight, pervasive horn arrangements, Iyer still finds time to dazzle. His finger work on the album's centerpiece, "Down to the Wire," is on the level of Matthew Shipp or Oscar Peterson, trickling and cascading up and down the keyboard. He composed all 10 of Far From Over's tunes, which fly from free jazz to funk fusion to contemporary bop. But the album is also clearly a group effort that finds Iyer laying back a bit, building repetitions and complex broken rhythms while the rest of the band takes the spotlight. Far From Over is a welcome addition to Iyer's heavily piano-centric catalog. ★★★★☆