And just as inevitably, I found myself most attracted to music that lay outside of conventional teachings: Ellington, Monk, Cecil Taylor, and other artists in the Pantheon (see below). As a person of color in America, I identified readily with their revolutionary forms of self -expression. To my ears, these artists possess a certain "cry," an incisive, ironic stance with respect to conventional musical forms, practices, and discourses. Often supporting and enriching this approach is a critical sociopolitical outlook, a desire to change the world, that many artists of color cannot help but share. This dimension carries utmost importance for me, and it ought to be heeded generally as a musical reality -- as a governing concept in the "jazz tradition." It is for this reason that I feel strongly about allying myself with the redoubtable forces of the musician-run Asian Improv Records label; the creativity of such venerable artists as Jon Jang, Francis Wong, Glenn Horiuchi, Mark Izu, and Miya Masaoka has that impassioned "cry" at its core. I am honored to join their ranks with my debut release.
Like many of the Asian Improv artists, I have cultivated an interest in the music of my cultural heritage -- in my case, South Indian classical (Carnatic) music -- in order to connect with my ancestry and ground my own creativity. I also try to understand and pay homage to the African roots of jazz, the significance of which cannot be emphasized enough. Both of these efforts draw inspiration in part from the Afrocentrism of jazz musicians such as Sun Ra, Randy Weston, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and John Coltrane, and from the political music of Jang, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus.
In my music, both Carnatic and African elements occur in coded or mediated form, to acknowledge the barriers of history and language that fall between those cultures and my own American frame of reference. Crucial to much of my music is the notion of rhythmic progression, which has origins in Africa, India, and undoubtedly elsewhere as well -- and which readily supports multiple readings, compound states of awareness, internal dialogues, and decentered musical spaces. My harmonic language strives to reemphasize these ideas and to articulate the physical fundamentals of sound. In any case I endeavor to make music that pleases me; exactly what that means depends on the specifics of my worldview, and on the forces that shape it.
This recording is graced by the presence of two friends and mentors of mine who happen to be geniuses of modern music. Saxophonist, composer, and musical pioneer Steve Coleman has led the creative movement known as M-BASE (Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporization) since its inception and is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest improvisors. Trombonist, composer, improvisor, installation artist, and philosopher George Lewis is a visionary in the field of computer music, a U.C. San Diego music professor, and an important member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Both of them have initiated momentous changes in my life and thought. I give them my unmitigated gratitude, not just for helping me with this project, but for being so generous with their knowledge and time and for taking an interest in my life's direction. It is significant that this project brings together the AACM, M-BASE, and Asian Improv Arts creative movements -- revolutionary, artist-run organizations that seek self-sufficiency, empowerment, and unity through music.
With this collection, I attempt to document my current activities as thoroughly as possible. Since I work in the realm of performance-oriented, improvised music, there are no overdubs or edits on this recording; you hear only "live" performances, captured in the studio. The variety of musical situations presented here reflects the variety of creative music in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area. THE VIJAY IYER TRIO (bassist Jeff Brock, drummer Brad Hargreaves, and myself) has served as a laboratory for my often clumsy ideas since the summer of 1994. Jeff, who has fallen prey to my whims since 1989, has managed against all odds to juggle music, math, and marriage successfully. Brad is a strong player who has been extremely committed, patient, and quick about learning and expanding the music. I have never worked with more dedicated, sensitive, or respectful musicians than these. We have grown and learned a tremendous amount together. This project only begins to document the trio repertoire; you'll be hearing more from us!
I brought together the members of POISONOUS PROPHETS solely for the recording of Peripatetics, but such sparks flew (if I may say so) that we've turned it into a regular unit. Bassist Jeff Bilmes is an extremely thoughtful musician, a master of rhythmic subtlety, and, most importantly, a great cook. Elliot Humberto Kavee, besides ranking among the best and most in-demand drummers in the Bay Area, possesses tremendous musical and extra- musical sensitivity and a relentless sense of humor. And my good friend Liberty "... or give me death" Ellman stands out in our generation as a guitarist with boundless creativity, artistry, sincerity, and positive energy.
In March & Epilogue and Segment for Sentiment #2 , SPIRIT COMPLEX navigates the sonic terrain that I used to seek with the group Sonocentric Ensemble, an improvising collective co- led by saxophonist Lee Yen and myself. These two tracks boast the unmistakably monstrous tenor saxophone of the great Francis Wong, who occupies a role of great historic al significance as one of the original instigators behind Asian Improv Arts, and as its current president. It also features the charisma and drive of cellist, bassist, composer, luthier, and Sun Ra Arkestra alumnus Kash Killion, who's always involved in dozens of great projects, from the Delta Blues to the outer realms. I am indebted to this quintet, especially to George, for their painstaking care in helping to transform my eight-bar sketch for Segment for Sentiment #2 into the beautiful jewel that it became. Since we recorded on August 6, 1995, it was clear to me that the weight of history was upon us -- hence the dedication.
It was only a few short months ago that Francis pulled me aside and suggested that it was a good time for me to make a record. I had a well-rehearsed trio, a nice bunch of tunes, lots of great musicians on my side, and even some public recognition; it would have been a mistake to let the moment slip away. Some sleepless nights and crushing debts later, I can say without hesitation that Francis was right! I have been incredibly fortunate to have the resources and support to realize this project. Enjoy, and thanks for listening.