Blood Sutra
Artists House AH 09

Dance, My Dear?
DATA 042

What a different a decade makes.

GenX pianist/composer Michiel Scheen and GenY pianist/composer Vijay Iyer have an almost diametrically opposed program of how to organize a standard saxophone and rhythm date. Many of the differences can be attributed to the fact that Amsterdam’s Scheen is in his early forties, while Iyer is merely grazing thirty.

Veteran of ensembles led by bassist Maarten Altena, violinist Ig Henneman and a playing partner of local and international musicians, Scheen brings a hard and heavy beat and a POMO cut-and-paste outlook to his nine compositions. With the CD listed as being by his quartet, as opposed to the other with Iyer’s name above the title, he also gives full range to his associates, all of whom are members of the Netherlands’ improv lab, the ICP Orchestra. They are steady bassist Ernst Glerum, freeform reedist Ab Baars and splashy drummer Han Bennink.

Lesser known, Iyer’s crew is rounded out by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has been the pianist’s partner since the mid-1990s; young mainstream drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Stephen Crump, who usually works with drummer Bobby Previte. Someone, who has said he’s attracted to ritualistic and discursive music, Iyer’s 11 compositions tend to strain jazz conventions through the sieve of musical otherness. But these uncommon — for jazz — references are more allied to the rock and pop music influences of his suburban upbringing than any Carnatic melodies he would have heard as the child of Indian immigrants.

Exoticism too can be in the ear of the behearer. “Habeas Corpus” for instance, hints at non-Western musical modes, but the sounds appear to be more Native Indian than Carnatic or Hindustani. Here and elsewhere, Iyer flows his arpeggios and cadenzas across as the keyboard in the company of Sorey’s rumble and thump and Mahanthappa’s sandpaper abrasiveness. It’s reminiscent of the way McCoy Tyner played in the 1970s with saxophonists Joe Ford or Gary Bartz.

However it’s “Kinship” and “Because of Guns (hey joe redux)”, which best illustrate how successfully he can prepare a masala of different themes. On the former, a

pre-modern stride piano intro dovetails into free-flowing note clusters that presage an Art Blakey-like press roll from the drummer. Later, as Sorey continues to comment on each interpolated piano phrase, Mahanthappa pointedly flutter tongues a new melody.

Unlike his work on Iyer’s earlier quartet CD, Crump can actually be heard here and is even more of a presence on “Because of Guns (hey joe redux)”. Someone who plays electric bass with Previte’s the Horse, Crump uses his acoustic model to keep up a steady pulse on this track, which includes intermittent piano variations on the familiar “Hey Joe” riff. Although the concept limits the drummer to metronomic beats, it gives the saxman license to keen and squeal to his heart’s content, adding an unexpected R&B tinge to Iyer’s prancing over the keys as he elaborates the theme.

Several shorter tracks show off the softer, balladic style of both the reedist and pianist, although both seem most comfortable on tunes like the freeboppy “Imagined Nations” where Mahanthappa’s slithering split tones and Iyer’s flashing note clusters meet and extend.

Ballads aren’t really part of Scheen’s game plan, or that of DANCE, MY DEAR which offers up supersonic power almost from its first notes. As polyrhyhmically sophisticated as BLOOD SUTRA, the overall execution is much tougher than on the other CD. For a start Scheen’s touch is much harder than Iyer’s, while Baars’ bitten off notes and honking tones unintentionally put Mahanthappa’s in the shadows. Glerum is much more of presence than Crump, and anyone who has ever heard Bennink knows that while he may be approximately twice Sorey’s age, his stentorian output is that much more pronounced.

Scheen can improvise at warp speed if he’s so inclined, but his chief joy is knitting together freely phrased pulses into a distinctive movement that melds earlier jazz harmonies and rhythms with a 21st Century conception. That means that Baars can be as smooth as Ben Webster if needed; Glerum strum as forcefully as Paul Chambers on his side; and on the last tune, Bennink can create a darting, Baby Dodds-like cymbal sand dance.

But the key to the session come in the title tune and the two that bookend it. Reminiscent of the sort of slurred, boozy ballad as you could have heard at Minton’s in 1943 when Thelonious Monk was woodshedding his distinctive style, “Idols” — a implicative title — finds the pianist adopting the key clips and pressured touch of Monk and another 100% original Herbie Nichols. Meanwhile Baars tenor playing sounds as if it’s coming from a reed hewn out of oak and Bennink’s inverted shuffle rhythm arrives with power even Kenny Clarke would recognize.

Following is “Dance, my dear?” whose title in this context sounds not so much as an invitation as a challenge. Baars double-tongues the theme up the scale as the others pulsate different tones around him. Scheen even appears to be deconstructing “Blue Monk” as he rushes the tempo to fit the broken tones in between AB’s slurred phrasing.

“Non-circle agreeable” is even more ferocious. The saxman bites off jagged note fragments on top of rolling piano tremolos and searing snare and cymbal work from the drummer. Only Glerum stays true to the theme, holding the pulse as the others explode around him. Finally the pianist cuts the tempo allowing Baars’s slurs to ease into boudoir tenor territory.

Scheen may prefer a herky-jerky beat fill with broken chords compared to Iyer’s most restrained approach; and Baars favor sibilant twittered lines to Mahanthappa’s smoother approach, but both strategies are interpretations, not major improvisational disagreements. Each band has provided an age appropriate session for its generation and each CD can be explored with equal interest.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dance: 1. Similarities 2. God in Heaven (stay!) 3. This time, it will last forever 4. Idols 5. Dance, my dear? 6. Non-circle agreeable 7. Patience 8. Subsequently 9. Summerwindow

Personnel: Dance: Ab Baars (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Michiel Scheen (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Han Bennink (drums)

Track Listing: Blood: Proximity (Crossroads) 2. Brute facts 3. Habeas Corpus 4. Ascent 5. When History Sleeps 6. Questions of Agency 7. Kinship 8. Stigmatism 9. That Much Music. 10. Imagined Nations 11. Because of Guns (hey joe redux) 12. Desiring

Personnel: Blood: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Stephan Crump (bass); Tyshawn Sorey (drums)