The Jazzcat

Vijay Iyer Residency at SFJAZZ

by on Feb.16, 2017, under Events, News

SFJAZZ My first experience in what I call the “new building”, although there have been quite a few years of performances prior to my arrival. It feels so good to be back in “The City”! Arrived in The Haight, grabbed some quick Thai food and now here to explore the vast dynamic sounds of the many sides of Vijay Iyer.
A quick intro of Vijay and Wadada and we are off.
Space is the place where we begin. Floating in silence amongst the stars and as we move past the planets discovering, witnessing and feeling the love as evolution takes place. Improvisations take form like new creations exploding into existence. Life begins like a flower growing ever so slightly in the morning dew of each day. From seed to full blossom, we feel the velocity, mystery and wonder as we slowly spin into evolution. From keyboard to piano to synthesizer, Vijay paints the canvas while Wadada’s horn reaches inside for us to see the path of our own individual life; one that has brought us “hear” to this moment. His color expresses our pain, our pleasure, our human story.


Photo by Rick Swig

It’s a dance, a conversation, an ebb as we flow and breathe. We are described as the music, by the music. Turmoil, obstacles and challenges as we face giants. Our spirits are joined together and together we become giant. People, Cultures, Religions, sounds and colors hearing a call to stop, come out of our individual existence and touch each other, love each other, learn together and discover our strengths.

This music is the best tapestry to dig deep within and not only discover ourselves, but our relation to one another. Moments of retrospect and immersion, resonating notes ground us as fleeting ones set the tone for our freedom!

Photos by Rick Swig

Words are merely sounds shaped and molded by wind distinguishable by tone. If you listen closely you hear the words of Brother Malcom speaking on experiences and describing the nature and structure of things that are. And we wonder why those echos, those words of wisdom and truth still reach out from the rings of past vibrations and speak in this 360 degree parallel universe. We are moving forth on the timeline yet coincidentally, or not, experincing deja vu and discovering that the past of your ancestors is your future.
These winds blow change and we are the flowers that bend and sway. But once all the petals have detached, once the pollen disenegrates and green turns to brown; we have the chance to do it all again and hopefully and through red clay, love prevails. “Life is worth living, and when it gets dark, you possess the power to turn on the light!!!
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A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke.
Encore is a piece Wadada wrote I honor of Marian Anderson, a woman with a rich and beautiful voice singing to entertain and struggling to over come mid century prejudice. The first black woman to sing and perform at the Metropolitan Opera and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 Rudresh joins Vijay for part 2 of an already extraordinary night of sound and this is only night one! With a similar vibration we begin. This time the pulse beats from a different atmosphere. A caressing yearning that breezes into existence; a calm and peace lay the foundation.  Bursts of brightness splash the canvas as an image of Chiraag Bhakta appears. There is a slogan, “from now on it’s not the dying we must fear but the living.
People are looking at life and expressing their love for all humanity more than ever! Love Trumps hate! “Land of the Free crossed out, home of the brave. Their are many ways to approach some of our age old philosophies. Sound is unifying and an extraordinary way to shower our conscious minds with the powerful fortification and nutrients that we need to form a force field of impenetrable love.

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Chiraag Bhakta is an American artist and designer currently living in San Francisco and a good friend of Vijay. Like many of us living here in this country growing up as an innocent and suddenly looking at the ways and means of differences. But artists speak and create thought, new ways of seeing the world through perspectives brought on by lifes personal experiences! And simply by expressing those thoughts and ideas through art, there is power to move and be moved! He expresses the commercialization of a Culture and how either we stand up and recognize or be slowly eroded from the pages of his story as color and truth turns opaque with rhetoric.


Mantras are codes, beliefs in positive repetition will heal and protect. Our musicians get it! Rudresh, Vijay and Wadada are protecting our souls. The culmination of thought, intent and sonic positivity are the keys the unlock the secrets of love and strength within us. A force for good! “Trident” a tune that Vijay and Rudresh performed together some 20 years ago here in the Bay Area. A few chuckles of memories from Rudresh as he proceeds to lay down the rhythm over one of  Vijays dynamically strong melodies. I personally remember banging this one hard on past radio shows down in Los Angeles; the frequency radiates just as powerful as ever. A Timeless Classic!White Supremacy crossed out.There are many colors on the pallet wheel and white is certainly one of them. No pigment, no dominance, but equal in its ability to voice a sound and therefore just as relevant as all of the colors with a sound to voice. Politics will now play, and really always has, a major roll in everything we do and as we go forth, it is our beautiful musicians who will paint the landscapes in true and vivid colors.
This is indeed a great deal of information to decode but, whether you listen actively or simply come and accept the sound, your presence signifies that you now know or seek the knowledge. So the message has been transferred to you for you to go forth and be a force for good!!!

The second night into another part of the brilliant mind of Vijay Iyer. It’s always poetry but tonight another reunion Teju Cole; author, poet and caring brilliant human being . The two met on the subway and no not by chance because all things are for purpose. Teju has a brand new book coming out this summer and if his penetrating narrative is any indication, then there is opportunity for you to be the collective drop of water for change.

Blind spot. Breath from the opening note and the strings set the tone. Speech, words powerfully simple and plane set the channel for the imagery. This is more than just a reading, or a story, this is a live docudrama and we are living it. In vivid, descriptive, detailed analysis a story, told with space, time and music. Teju is the director and has us all, molding and shaping the future of our conscious. Death and dreams of falling. The death toll is always one plus one plus one plus one.

Pictures and words that slowly seep into our beings. As the stories are told I am mesmerized.  Not by the pictures but by how the sound of Teju’s voice, and the strings of Steven Krump’s bass and Okkyung Lee on cello sear the messages and imagery into my soul. Photographs so simple an undetected yet so rich with story. Like the small whispers in your mind that you ignore everyday but, if you stop and listen, an abundance of meaning lies in its simplicity. These signs may say nothing and may hide in plain sight as just ordinary signs but are or can be an homage to greater things. Let this be a sign! These stories and more blend together only to show us that history connects our humanity.

After intermission, a larger casts graces the stage. This is truly one of the most incredible ensembles; but of course, that’s how  Vijay does it! Horns of plenty with Ambrose Akinmusire, Graham Haynes, Mark Shim, Steven Lehman; Sun Ra said it best, “My Brothers the Wind”. Air is everything. These musicians have discovered many more uses on their instruments that were originally intended for singular sound.

Teju mixing it up with larger sonics. The narrative is just as impressive creatively turning the kaleidoscope of our minds. Brass and smash! Tyson Sorey with a menagerie of beats and fills driving the tempo while individually and collectively the horn section radiates in four part brilliance. Guitarist Rafiq Bhatia with riffs of energetic elevation and Patricia Brennan twisting thought on  peculiar ponders. Vijay and vibes cutting colors with a tremendous full flavored sound! The audience hears and the message is clear. Each of the solos tonight are so intensely beautiful; sonically fierce on the edge. Driving forces head on together is not to be a collision, but a uniting of divinity. The platform for tonight’s sound is on high and below the earth that has acquired its color by the blood dripped down from trees. Creators be advised, the grade on the curve has changed.

Night three turns out to be one of the largest audiences. I guess the word is out!
A mellow and lovely beginning is always quite the journey. What is so great about Vijay is that all compositions are a unique journey unto themselves. A masterful dance of three tonight. Usually Brother Marcus Gilmore is on drums but tonight, just as ambitious and incredibly wise in complexity is Tyshawn Sorey; Master improvisor and dynamic pulse creator. Always tremendous in every  Vijay Iyer formation, as well as a few on his own, Stephen Crump. And Vijay, man brilliance recognizes brilliance as the ménage à trois of saturated colors and textures enwrap us in swirling melodies and graceful Ravel-lations! The sound is lifting and bright filling the room with an even layer of anticipated juvelation.

The trio has been at the base of all of the sound for this series and tonight the prominence is full throttle front and center. A rolling thunderous sound that we are blessed enough to live right in the eye of its existence; a welcome storm. Laying out new compositions as well as bringing new life to original music. So much spontaneity in the crux of the sound continuum.  Paying tributes and Monkering without mocking. I am hearing the sound and imagining holographic images of a spherical break dance; the spinning Monk! Sorey bringing the continent into the equation as the sound communicates through the lush. The heartbeat tics and skips on point; arrhythmic aneurysms of the very best kind. From Monk to MJ! And I ask why, why, must they do me this way! Deconstruction and rebuilding a better tomorrow today! Our world needs to follow suit. The time is NOW. Pointnant thoughts followed by a powerful tributes to Eric Garner; a life, full of life, his life, our lives, your life matters, Black and otherwise.

And the there were 5! Straight Ahead “Out of the Tunnel; A road less traveled but a welcomed sound! Swinging that foot the tappin’ pendulum all the way around the meter! Both Ambrose and Shim sound even more dynamic tonight!  Ore freedom, more space, more time to dig deeper into their roles asintegral as they always are. There is no doubt that everyone Turley understands how marvelous and necessary these vibrations are;  it to be taken for granted.






Tribal Wisdom Indeed! Prasana displays an mystic groove with modern day Cultural twists. Nite Mitta tunes his instrument which is not an easy task, but once it’s right, the flavor grounds us in a percussive rue of ancient times. Prasana uses his guitar and finds the most exciting peculiar ways of creating expression and his voice synchronizing with chords and crossing rhythms is mystifying .  If it is possible, then the Universe will make it so. He writes about the differences between Classical Physics and Quantum Physics.

This is like a ten year debut and both Vijay and Prusana have not been back in San Francisco performing for quite some time which make the occasion that much more special. The range of sounds produced by Nitten is quite extraordinary. The bass on the drums is resonating and the power and speed of deliver in his fingertips is stunning. Vijay wrote a song for his grandparents which eventually took on a larger meaning particularly referring to transitions that are currently taking place in our country. Maybe this will give us all something to collectively meditate on!

I have been here meditating for four nights and I am exhausted listening, re-coding and hanging on to each and every note. Active listening takes physical work. I realize that most people do not look at their entertainment as work but, you have been welcomed and invited at the request of the artist so, your presence and participation required. Giving back your energy completes the circle. I can imagine how Vijay must be. This is no simple task to balance mental preparation, practice, rehearsal with seven completly different versions of your music, travel, rest and oh yeah food. Things that most people don’t think about when they come to see a performance. But watching every night, I can see that all of this has no bearing on the intensity of music. When they walk out on stage there is a new energy fueled partly by the excitement of performing and partly by the presence of the ever anticipated energy of the audience. There is a comfort in the trust of creativity, spontaneity and freedom that the spirt of the music requires. Of course there is a great deal of joy that comes from doing what you love but, there is also a great deal of sacrifice and all in order to give the absolute best back to Mother Earth that has fed, nourished and provided. Three hundred and sixty degrees, just like the gravitational pull that keeps it all in balance. At the core is life, love and giving back, never taking away. Seek it, appreciate it, enjoy it and return it! An all encompassing win win!

LeRoy Downs “The Jazzcat”

Chiraag Bhakti provided the artwork and performance photos for the collage

Photos of Vijay with Wadada and Rudresh on the night one by Rick Swig


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