Vijay Iyer's New Day Gig at the Met Breuer

Vijay Iyer performing at the Met Breuer opening with Mark Turner/ PHOTO: SAMANTHA NANDEZ/BFA
Vijay Iyer performing at the Met Breuer opening with Mark Turner/ PHOTO: SAMANTHA NANDEZ/BFA

Seated at a Steinway grand piano in a dark, intimate room in early March, Vijay Iyerwasn’t simply playing another gig.
Aficionados in attendance could recognize a loose medley of familiar jazz themes, including Wayne Shorter’s “ Nefertiti” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” Mostly, Mr. Iyer and his duet partner, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, issued an unbroken and largely abstract flow, moving easily from dense dissonances to languid melodies.
Musically, the scene wasn’t unlike Mr. Iyer’s performances at any number of Manhattan jazz clubs and concert halls. Except here, the listeners were gathered in a small gallery behind the lobby of the Met Breuer, the celebrated five-story hulk of a building that serves as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new outpost for modern and contemporary art.
The audience was witnessing the first installment of “Relation,” a performance residency showcasing Mr. Iyer, who is equally distinguished as a pianist, composer and educator. His ongoing performances open to the general public Friday and run through the end of the month.
“It’ll be my day gig,” said Mr. Iyer, in an interview at his Harlem home. “It’s almost like having an office.”
That’s how I opened yesterday’s Wall Street Journal piece about Iyer’s residency.
I’d like to return for one of Iyer’s collaborations with writer and photographer Teju Cole. There’s a wealth of great stuff going on not least the films, which include Prashant Bhargava’s film, “Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi,” which depicts the colorful intensity of a Hindu ritual festival and features a score by Mr. Iyer based upon Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” and “Eclipse” a documentary about trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quaret, filmed when Iyer had just joined that band, about a decade ago.
The gem of Iyer’s “Relation” residency will be a “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke,” a collaborative suite from Iyer and Smith, commissioned by the Met Breuer, and offered in response to an exhibition dedicated to the Indian modernist artist Nasreen Mohamedi, which occupies the Met Breuer’s second floor. They’ll perform teh suite in premiere on March 30 and 31 in the Met Breuer’s fifth-floor gallery. (ECM will release a studio recording of this music on March 25.)
The recording is beautiful and often strikingly spare. Mohamedi’s art affectly me deeply when I walked through the exhibition earlier this month. Through its meticulous and diligent aesthetic, its use of space and implications about time, its sense of inner search, Mohamedi’s work resonates deeply with what Smith and Iyer are after musically, or at least what I hear in their music.
When I wrote about Iyer in the Journal two years ago he told me: “I’m here because of a series of generous African-American people who let me be here.” He was pointing to, among others, Smith, who is one of his closest mentors.
Iyer describes “Relation” most clearly in terms of what Mr. Smith, who is an important AACM figure, calls “creative music”:

“The history of creative music is kind of like the history of storming places,” he said. “So that’s what we’re doing. We’re announcing that we’re here. And if you hadn’t thought that we belong in what you call an art world, you’ll have to deal with us now.”

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