February 23, 2019
Cellist Matt Haimovitz and jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer perform in the New Stages series
Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Vijay Iyer turned The Ringling Museum’s Historic Asolo Theatre into an experimental jazz club filled with thinkers and devotees seeking expanded horizons. We knew going in that we would be encountering two music visionaries each rooted in a different world, and even the performers didn’t know what the results might be. This concert, part of the New Stages Contemporary Performance Series, was only their second together.
Haimovitz took the stage first performing the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 3 in C Major (BWV 1009) with unfettered abandon. Opening the concert with Bach, and even after intermission as he did with the Prelude and Fugue from Suite No. 5, felt like a consecration. Here it was all the more fresh, pure and new to our ears, certainly a high mark.
Haimovitz then took the Bach straight into a work he’d commissioned from Iyer as part of a series of “Overtures to Bach.” Iyer’s “Run” picked up Bach’s spirit if not the musical vocabulary and ran with it in new directions yet on a parallel line for a fascinating juxtaposition. Despite the obvious hurdles of multiphonics and other extended techniques, Haimovitz was in clear and relaxed command.
Next Iyer played a solo set, opening with his take on Joe Henderson’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s standard “Night and Day.” Cool, intelligent, yet connecting in the moment, this performance alone confirmed for me Iyer’s standing as Jazz Times and Downbeat Magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year repeatedly since 2012.
As he moved on to two of his own compositions, the experience evolved in complexity as if we were drawn into Iyer’s sound world. These are the times when I am most aware that music does defy literal description. Iyer’s “Spellbound” and “Sacrosanct,” an early composition, felt like the rising expression of an essentially innocent impulse gathering courage and confident expression. There was a clarity that allowed us to follow the development of key themes.
Iyer’s “Meta-Etude” started with a scatter of notes that grew increasingly insistent, spilling over themselves, piling layer upon layer. It became unfathomably dense like a nonstop rational chaos that pulled us into a torrent, before coming to rest. Iyer explained that his intention is to induce an out-of-body experience both for performer and audience. Check. Done.
When the two visionaries took the stage to perform together we beheld another order of definition-defying experience. Blending their approaches and two disparate composers — jazz great Billy Strayhorn and Korean-born Isang Yun, representing the Darmstadt contemporary music scene — it was as if they discovered a new form of stellar collision, like a luminous red nova.
Yun’s “Glissées” employs sliding bent notes on cello plucked with a guitar pick (plectrum) among many other Asian-leaning ornamentations while the piano joined in with an improvised counterpoint. Seamlessly the music stepped into the world of Strayhorn’s New Orleans blues “Blood Count” as if singing the same song, different verse. It was remarkably organic.
This same knitting together of vastly different voices applied to their set blending Philip Glass’ “Orbit for Solo Cello,” Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine,” and Iyer’s own “Accumulated Gestures.”
They concluded their excellent adventure with a suite from Iyer’s “City of Sand,” a work commissioned by the Silk Road Ensemble and the contemporary chamber orchestra Far Cry. Their distillation down to piano and cello retained its fascination and won a hearty ovation.
BY: Gayle Williams
READ AT: Sarasota Herald-Tribune