Incorporating elements from Indian music into jazz hasn’t been a particularly new idea for decades, but leave it to celebrated Indian-American pianist Vijay Iyer to take the long-running tradition a step further.
No stranger to incorporating elements of the Indian music into his compositions through much of his career, Iyer enlisted South Indian-born musicians Prasanna on guitar and tabla player Nitin Mitta for his first attempt at a full-length hybrid. Though somewhat similar in spirit to the cross-cultural exchange of the 2008 compilation “Miles From India,” the music here is far less familiar than inside-out Miles Davis covers.
Though the album is highlighted by free-flowing collaboration, Iyer frequently rises to the foreground while churning between a flutter of tablas in songs such as the shimmering “Abundance” or the contemplative flow of “Falsehood.” Beautifully rising and falling with Iyer’s melodies, the album’s co-writer Prasanna also shines with a slippery, stinging tone that occasionally recalls John Abercrombie’s Eastern-tinged excursions.
Occupying some unknown yet fertile crossroads between Indian and contemporary classical music spiked with Iyer’s borderless take on jazz and even the occasional flash of rock, “Tirtha” is a tough album to define, which makes it all the more bewitching. Fans who look to Iyer solely for high-flying piano jazz might struggle to find familiar footing as the album’s intricate sonic interplay takes some time to unpack. But Iyer’s willingness to take listeners to places they’ve never heard remains something to behold.
-- Chris Barton
Vijay Iyer, Prasanna and Nitin Mitta