It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about jazz treatment of pop songs. I hope this will prove worth the wait – it’s possibly my favorite one yet.
Vijay Iyer is one of the most exciting and accomplished jazz pianists to have come along in years. His latest album, Solo, is already at the very top of my “Best of 2010” jazz albums. It is a thoughtful, deeply beautiful record. Look. Even the cover art is wonderful:
As ever, Iyer draws from a wide musical palette in his song selections. About half the tunes are his own compositions – thoroughly satisfying, richly crafted affairs that reward close listening. Then there’s a Monk piece, a couple of Ellington tunes, and a standard. Oh, and a Michael Jackson number. Really.
“Human Nature” was one of the slightly less humungous tracks on Thriller. I hadn’t heard it for a while when I popped Iyer’s CD into my stereo. The pianist pulls off a brilliant trick – the tune is immediately recognizable, and yet a wholly different beast.
Listen how, before the melody begins, he take one of the song’s minor motifs and polishes it to a beautiful, burnished perfection. Iyer plays the tune itself pretty straight (for a jazz musician.) He thoughtfully shifts the pulse of the music, but never wholly unshackles himself from the melody. This creates a delicious tension – I am always waiting for him to take flight, and it never quite happens. That’s not to say that this version is bland in the slightest. I like the dark-hued tonality that dominates the middle part of the tune – hear his left hand rumble towards the bottom of the instrument’s register.
Do yourself a favor, and have a listen. It’s wonderful. Oh, and leave a comment and let me know what you think. Is this your kind of thing?