Intuitively breaking boundaries and releasing new flows of thought into the mainstream airstream, you are forced to listen closely as faint reminiscences of Duke Ellington flow through. It may not swing in the typical sense of the word. There’s no place for a conscious rock step amidst the contrapuntal crashes of the percussion, but still, it’s there. The raucous barstool-bound Harlem club on a late 1920s night, with the coloreds and the creoles mixing into the fray as you hear more potently and acutely the intentions behind “Black & Tan Fantasy,” this time recreated in 2010 by pianist Vijay Iyer, who will grace the stage at Carver Cultural Community Center at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17.
Unofficially the voice of jazz in modern publications, Downbeat’s 2012 Critic Poll crowned Iyer and his trio of bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore with honors of Group of the Year, Jazz Artist of the Year, Pianist of the Year, and Album of the Year, perhaps boosting Iyer’s reputation as a ground-breaking pianist. The MacArthur Foundation joined the boat by awarding him with a “genius grant” in 2013, only encouraging Iyer to stretch farther beyond the boundaries of jazz – to break the mold, so to speak.
Iyer and crew will do just that when they swing out to San Antonio this weekend. More specifically, they will be breaking stuff – i.e. displaying a sneak peek of their new album, “Break Stuff,” in which Iyer explores jazz alongside his faithful bassist and drummer in trio format before the lucky jazz fans of the Carver.
Her table decorated with flyers for the upcoming show, Carver Marketing and Communications Manager Teresa Vásquez-Romero explained the philosophy behind Iyer’s journey to San Antonio.
“When (Executive Director) Yonnie (Blanchette) goes to New York, her main mission is to stick to the Carver mission – bring diversity, culture, artists that are not only nationally, but internationally known,” she said.
Past performers have included Grammy award winner Esperanza Spalding, the SF Jazz Collective, and most recently, burgeoning jazz star Gregory Porter, who performed in December.
“People who saw Esperanza here versus other theaters, preferred this experience,” Vásquez-Romero said. “There is a connection between the performer and audience.”
Vásquez-Romero has been digging into the music of Iyer, most recently in preparation for the big show this Saturday.
“We are really honored to have such a distinguished artist come to San Antonio. He is very well-educated, a composer and bandleader who is always very well prepared musically,” Vásquez-Romero said. “He’s bringing his new album, and we’re only one of three cities getting to listen!”
According to Vásquez-Romero, it is critical to expose San Antonio to what is going on in other parts of the country, musically speaking. “He’s considered more for the new generation of jazz. We pride ourselves on bringing the people who are breaking through, trying different types of music, away from the norm,” Vásquez-Romero said.
Iyer is far from sedentary in his musical composing, having produced new albums in each of the past four years, each one with a uniquely esoteric take on jazz and world mediums. The son of Indian immigrants, Iyer has even teamed up with Indian guitar master Prasanna, who came to San Antonio not more than three months ago with Musical Bridges Around the World.
The Carver’s season lasts until June, with features in both jazz and world music, as well as dance. February will witness bandleader John Magaldi working alongside Darryl Strayhorn to honor the man’s uncle, composer and Duke Ellington’s second half, Billy Strayhorn. The other artist with a jazzier edge will be for the performance in June. Valerie Simpson, famous for her interactions with Diana Ross and composition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Every Woman,” will be taking the final bow for the 2014-2015 season.
Vásquez-Romero agreed that the demographics of the audience at the Carver are changing. A growing number of young people are flowing into the area, she said.
“Slowly but surely, it is changing, and the Carver will become a pivotal location for music, the arts,” Vásquez-Romero said. “People will realize, little by little, that is a fixture of our community.”
Tickets for the Vijay Iyer show can be bought at www.thecarver.org/season. Iyer will also be performing a Master Class at 11 a.m. on Saturday for the ardent jazz fans who’d like to dig a little deeper. You can also find information about future events and a unique performance every month on the website.
*Featured/top image: Stephan Crump, Marcus Gilmore, and Vijay Iyer form the Vijay Iyer Trio. Image courtesy of Juan Hitters/ECM Records.