Iyer's regular trio with Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore began the show. It takes a certain level of playing to truly fill up a space the size of Royce Hall, and the trio was up to the task, expanding as the night went on. They were soon joined by Steve Coleman on alto, and later by cornetist Graham Haynes and tenor Mark Shim. In their different configurations, the group essentially played 3 sets without a break, lasting a total of 2.5 hours. Either despite or because of that, the concert sometimes felt a bit restrained, like a first set, with the really juicy stuff to come in the second.
The trio was tight in a way that only comes from being long-time musical comrades - other long standing trios come to mind like Jarrett, Peacock, and Dejohnette; or Medeski, Martin, and Wood. Iyer, Crump, and Gilmore's fluid yet deeply subdivided relationship to rhythm inevitably brought to mind the talas of Carnatic music, mixed with Thelonious Monk's intuitive sense of spacing. I was most excited about the playing of Marcus Gilmore, whom I hadn't heard live before. His playing fit somewhere between the time warp of Tony Williams and the bombastic solidity of Max Roach. At one point, Iyer even said, "this one features the drummer, but let's be honest: they all feature the drummer."
Once Steve Coleman came on, it became clear why Iyer lists him as such a powerful influence. His relationship to harmony and musical cycles is well aligned with the aesthetic of the trio. Coleman sounded solid playing through a set of wonderfully angular tunes. There is a certain openness in a piano trio that is closed with the inclusion of horns - meaning that a definite aesthetic choice has been made (which is not a bad thing). Coleman's tasty playing showed why that was a choice worth making.
After Coleman had a chance to play with the trio for a while, there was a brief pause as mic's and stands were brought onstage for Mark Shim and Graham Haynes, as well as a Rhodes for Iyer. The additional textures brought a world of extra depth to the ensemble's sound. I hoped more would happen on the Rhodes, but it was always tasteful, so no real complaints. Shim and Haynes played the roles of respectful sidemen, often allowing the trio and Coleman to take the forefront but stepping up strongly when the time came. Haynes' cornet was sometimes difficult to hear, but it always found the right notes when it popped out. Will this sextet ever record an album? If so, it will be pretty fantastic.
Iyer's bio lists a diverse range of influences, including composers such as Reich, Ligeti, Debussy, and Bartok. I didn't hear the Reich much, but definitely felt some Ligeti peek through - not the micropolyphony/clocks-and-clouds Ligeti, but the Piano Etudes Ligeti, with a syncretic interest in music of the whole world. Debussy's sense of harmony and musical fantasy was definitely present, as was Bartok's rhythmic invention. A few tunes reminded me of the rhythmic cycles in Arnold Dreyblatt's ensemble music.
This show wrapped up the Angel City Jazz Festival, which presented a whole slew of legendary improvisers over the course of 2 weeks, including Mark Dresser, Bill Frisell, Archie Shepp, Myra Melford, and more. Performances took place at LACMA, REDCAT, the Ford Amphitheatre, and Royce Hall.
In March, UCLA's newly restructured CAP (formerly UCLA Live) will present one of Iyer's other collaborators, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. 10 years ago I was lucky enough to hear their Raw Materials duo play in Seattle (opening for Tin Hat Trio), and I look forward to hearing him live again.