Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer (pronounced “VID-jay EYE-yer”) has been described by Pitchfork as "one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today," by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.” The New York Times has stated, “There’s probably no frame wide enough to encompass the creative output of the pianist Vijay Iyer.”
The Vijay Iyer Sextet is a group of generation-defining, virtuoso improvisers—horn players Graham Haynes, Steve Lehman and Mark Shim alongside rhythm partners bassist Stephan Crump and one of two stellar drummers—Tyshawn Sorey and Marcus Gilmore—who leverage a wealth of jazz history even as they push it boldly forward. The music ranges from the thrillingly explosive, to the cathartically elegiac; with melodic hooks, entrancing atmosphere, rhythmic muscle and an elemental spirit all part of the allure. Iyer has been working with the members of this sextet for close to 20 years, in a number of different configurations, and Far From Over, Iyer's newest ECM Records release represents something of a culmination of that work, while also showing Iyer reaching a new peak, furthering an already prolific and diverse artistry.
Far From Over was recorded at New York City’s Avatar Studios, with Manfred Eicher producing. Throughout, the pianist plays off the melodic-rhythmic possibilities of the material in a characteristically engaging way. His orchestration of the horns is both textural and exciting, but in creating his sextet music, Iyer tends to “build from the rhythm first, from the identity of the groove,” he explains. “Many of the rhythms come from folk music—from West African drumming or Indian classical music, and South Indian folk rhythms.
Iyer sees this music as aiming to “transform” the listener, with an eye towards the especially troubled socio-political climate in which this music is being made. Iyer explains: “There’s a resistance in this music, an insistence on dignity and compassion, a refusal to be silenced. The music can hit hard while also having a searching quality, a yearning – which is basically a blues aesthetic that has been abstracted and then embodied in different ways by the different players in the group. There’s a defiance there, though it’s balanced by a unity the sextet achieves. Defiance and unity, somehow together – that’s the sound this band captures to me. Joy and danger – that spectrum of possibilities is in there, too.”
Iyer has been voted DownBeat Magazine's Artist of the Year three times—in 2016, 2015 and 2012. He was named a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and a 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist. In 2014 he began a permanent appointment as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music at Harvard University.
Iyer has released twenty albums covering remarkably diverse terrain, most recently for the ECM label. His latest is Far From Over (2017) with his sextet, and preceding that record were the ECM releases A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (2016), a collaboration with Iyer’s "hero, friend and teacher," Wadada Leo Smith; Break Stuff (2015), featuring the Vijay Iyer Trio; Mutations (2014), featuring Iyer’s music for piano, string quartet and electronics; and Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi (2014), the score to a film by the late Prashant Bhargava, performed with the International Contemporary Ensemble.
Iyer's compositions have been commissioned and premiered by Cal Performances, Tanglewood Music Festival and The Ojai Festival for violinist Jennifer Koh; Bang on a Can All-Stars; The Silk Road Ensemble; The Orpheus Ensemble and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; Ethel; Brentano Quartet; Brooklyn Rider; Imani Winds; American Composers Orchestra; International Contemporary Ensemble; Chamber Orchestra Leopoldinum; and Matt Haimovitz. Iyer has performed, recorded, and collaborated with musical pioneers Steve Coleman, George Lewis, Butch Morris, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dr. L. Subramaniam, Steve Lehman, Craig Taborn, Oliver Lake, Ambrose Akinmusire, Tyshawn Sorey, Matana Roberts, poets Amiri Baraka and Mike Ladd, novelist Teju Cole, and rapper Himanshu Suri.
Iyer is the Director of The Banff Centre’s International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, the 2015-16 Artist-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Musical Director for the 2017 Ojai Festival. He holds a doctorate in music cognition from University of California, Berkeley, and his writings have appeared in Journal of Consciousness Studies, Wire, Music Perception, JazzTimes, Journal of the Society for American Music, Critical Studies in Improvisation, and the Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. He is a Steinway artist.