"By now, there can be no doubt that pianist-composer Iyer stands among the most daringly original jazz artists of the under-40 generation," writes Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune. The American-born son of Indian immigrants, VIJAY IYER (pronounced "VID-jay EYE-yur") is a self-taught creative musician grounded in American jazz and popular forms, and drawing from a wide range of Western and non-Western traditions. He was described by The Village Voice as "the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years," by The New Yorker as one of "today's most important pianists... extravagantly gifted," and by the L.A. Weekly as "a boundless and deeply important young star."
The breadth and depth of Iyer's recorded output defy any simple description. His music has covered so much ground at such a high level of acclaim that it is easy to forget that it all belongs to the same person. Forthcoming in 2009 is Historicity, Iyer's first piano trio album and his debut for ACT Records, featuring an astonishing set of covers rendered in his signature style. Over the previous decade, his celebrated quartet mined "the magical and murky, imagined interzone, where the music of the Indo-Asian Diaspora meets the Western Jazz tradition... establish[ing] the next extension in both traditions" (All Music Guide). They document "some of the freshest, most compelling jazz today" (NPR) on four critically hailed discs, Panoptic Modes (2001), Blood Sutra (2003), Reimagining (2005), and Tragicomic (2008), each garnering glowing worldwide praise. But alongside these works sit several vastly different, equally important and groundbreaking collaborations. Foremost are In What Language? (2004) and Still Life with Commentator (2007), Iyer's politically searing, stylistically omnivorous large-scale works with poet-performer Mike Ladd ("unfailingly imaginative and significant" - JazzTimes). On another end of the spectrum, Your Life Flashes (2002), Simulated Progress (2005), and Door (2008) capture the innovations of the experimental collective Fieldwork ("phenomenal... incredible, challenging, and forward-thinking" - All Music Guide). And last but not least, Raw Materials (2006, "a total triumph from beginning to end" - All About Jazz) documents "one of the great partnerships in jazz" (Chicago Tribune) - the duo of Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. All of Iyer's albums have appeared on best-of-the-year lists in dozens of major media, ranging from JazzTimes, Jazzwise, Jazzman, Downbeat, and The Wire, to ArtForum, National Public Radio, The Utne Reader, The New Yorker, and The Village Voice.
As significant as his recordings have been in the jazz world, Iyer's eclectic accomplishments extend well beyond them. Iyer recently contributed a remix for the 10th anniversary reissue of British Asian electronica pioneer Talvin Singh's Mercury Prize-winning OK, and created a series of cues for the television sports channel ESPN. Iyer's quintet suite Far From Over, commissioned by the 2008 Chicago Jazz Festival and debuted before an audience of 30,000, and was praised in the Chicago Tribune as "making music history... a potential masterpiece... searing, original, and dramatically charged... a shattering, epic composition." His orchestral work Interventions was commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in March 2007 under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies. It was praised by The New York Times as "all spiky and sonorous," and by the Philadelphia City Paper for its "heft and dramatic vision and a daring sense of soundscape." Other works include Mutations I-X (2005) commissioned and premiered by the string quartet Ethel; Three Episodes for Wind Quintet (1999) written for Imani Winds; a "ravishing" (Variety) score for the original theater/dance work Betrothed (2007); and the prize-winning score for Teza (2008) by legendary filmmaker Haile Gerima.
Across this diverse output, Iyer's artistic vision remains unmistakable. His powerful, cutting-edge music is firmly grounded in groove and pulse, but also rhythmically intricate and highly interactive; fluidly improvisational, yet uncannily orchestrated; emotionally compelling, as well as innovative in texture, style, and musical form. Its many points of reference include jazz piano titans such as Monk, Ellington, Tyner, Alice Coltrane, Andrew Hill, and Randy Weston; the classical sonorities of composers such as Reich, Ligeti, Debussy, and Bartok; the low-end sonics of rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, dub, and electronica; the intricate polyphonies of African drumming; and the vital, hypnotic music of Iyer's Indian heritage.
A perennial critical favorite, Iyer has repeatedly won multiple categories of the Downbeat Magazine International Critics' Poll, including Rising Star Jazz Artist (2006, 2007), Rising Star Composer (2006, 2007), and Rising Star Pianist (2009). In 2008 he graced the covers of two major jazz magazines, Downbeat (US) and Jazzwise (UK), and he was previously named Up & Coming Musician of the Year in the Jazz Journalists Association's Annual Jazz Awards. His many other honors include the prestigious 2003 CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts and a 2006 Fellowship in Music Composition from New York Foundation for the Arts. As a composer/performer, Iyer has received commissioning grants from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund (2000, 2001, 2005, 2009), the New York State Council on the Arts (2002), Creative Capital Foundation (2002), Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust (2002, 2004), American Composers Forum (2005), Chamber Music America (2005), Meet The Composer (2006), and the Jazz Institute of Chicago (2008).
Iyer's major engagements as a composer-performer-bandleader include the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; The Asia Society, Merkin Hall, Zankel Hall, The Kitchen, and the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City; the Painted Bride Art Center and the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia; the New World Theater at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; the TBA Festival at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art; the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in Los Angeles; Memorial Hall at UNC Chapel Hill; Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University; the Wexner Center at Ohio State University; The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Buffalo's Albright Knox Gallery; the McCarter Theater at Princeton University; the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit; Cal Performances at U.C. Berkeley; and international music festivals around the world.
Iyer has joined forces with a wide range of contemporary artists, including Steve Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, Amiri Baraka, Wadada Leo Smith, Dead Prez, Amina Claudine Myers, Butch Morris, George Lewis, Oliver Lake, Miya Masaoka, Matana Roberts, Trichy Sankaran, Samir Chatterjee, Pamela Z, Imani Uzuri, Will Power, Suphala, Dafnis Prieto, Burnt Sugar, Karsh Kale, Shujaat Khan, DJ Spooky, John Zorn, Bill Morrison, and many others.
A polymath whose work has spanned the sciences, arts, and humanities, Iyer holds a B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from Yale College, and a Masters in Physics and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley. He was chosen as one of nine "Revolutionary Minds" in the science magazine Seed, and his research in music cognition has been featured on the radio programs This Week in Science and Studio 360. A faculty member at New York University and The New School University, he has also given master classes and lectures in composition, improvisation, cognitive science, jazz studies, and performance studies at California Institute of the Arts, Columbia University, Harvard University, Manhattan School of Music, and the School for Improvisational Music, among others. His writings appear in Music Perception, Current Musicology, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Critical Studies in Improvisation, Journal for the Society of American Music, and the edited anthologies Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (Columbia University Press), Sound Unbound (MIT Press), and Arcana IV (Hips Road). He is a Steinway artist.