By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
By Jeff Cebulski
An early candidate for Album of the Year, Vijay Iyer’s latest ECM release Compassion advances his relationship with two other formidable musicians, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, on a spirited array of borrowed tunes and original compositions intended to represent tributes and feelings.
And, if the vibe emanating from the collection’s “Where I Am” is any indication, Iyer’s feelings lean in an ebullient, confident direction.
This may be Iyer’s most lyrical representation yet, given the assortment. The trio’s first album, Uneasy, possessed inklings of what this new album brings but largely typified the pianist’s more dramatic and pensive leanings. Compassion has brighter moments and swings more, even if deep thoughts permeate the proceedings.
What continues, though, is the telepathy that has developed among these highly gifted players, as they move in tandem even when they stand out as individuals. I dare say that, after the unfortunate demise of Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio, we might now have a replacement.
Sorey, who is perhaps our widest-ranged jazz personality, has the first expression in the opening title piece, a softly played cymbal-and-snare run that suggests a Buddhistic percussive entry, leading to a solemn statement from Iyer that is meant to invoke a recognition of suffering, perhaps a driving force in Iyer’s music connected to his upbringing by his father, “the most compassionate man I have ever known.” That solemnity, though, is quickly absconded on “Arch,” a spritely remembrance of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in which Oh has a dancing solo followed by Iyer and Sorey’s invigorating portion. And then, to make sure we get the more positive vibe, comes the trio’s take on Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” in memory of the late Chick Corea.
The next song, “Malestrom,” is one of a few compositions meant to recognize moments of suffering, yet is not weighed down by dirge-like rhythms. Here the idea of chaos leads to an invigorated keyboard attack met well by Oh and Sorey, who never backs down from a chance to embellish. “Prelude: Orison” returns the album to quietude as Iyer incorpoates elements from an earlier work, “For My Father.” His playing here compares favorably to Jarrett’s first solo album.
Then, another brisk effort, “Tempest,” followed by a tribute to those affected by the COVID pandemic, “Panegyric,” with Oh’s solo creating the tone that lifts rather than mourns.
Chicago’s Roscoe Mitchell has been a strong influence on Iyer and the pianist represents accordingly on a brief cover of Mitchell’s “Nonaah.” Then comes the almost joyous “Where I Am” and bouncy “Ghostrumental,” with Oh’s bass flowing freely between her percussive partners.
“It Goes” is Iyer’s solo moment, a fragment of a work meant to remember Emmitt Till and wonder what he would have become.
The album ends with the trio’s cheerful take on John Stubblefield’s (via Mary Lou Williams) “Free Spirits” adjoined to a revisit of Geri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song,” which was played in full on Uneasy. The celebratory mood closes a thoroughly refreshing excursion.
The evolution of this trio, energized by the resolute vision of its provocateur, should continue to build a huge following and bring prolonged excitement to the jazz world. Compassion, like Uneasy, gives us great assurance that more intriguing work is coming from Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, and Tyshawn Sorey.
Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey, Compassion. ECM, 2024.
Vijay Iyer, piano
Linda May Han Oh, bass
Tyshawn Sorey, drums
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org