As a poll-winning pianist/composer with a PhD in the cognitive science of music, director of the Banff Centre's International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music and Harvard professor, Vijay Iyer has a lot going on between his ears and on the tips of his fingers. With Mutations, his first album for the iconic ECM imprint, he veers away from the expected virtuosic jazz for which he is internationally known and respected. Instead, he presents a series of chamber music works: ten pieces for string quartet and three for piano. Lightly interspersed in some pieces are some laptop electronics.
The overall effect of the album is atmospheric. If you're coming to this expecting the jazz throwdowns he's had with the likes of Rudresh Mahanthappa or Steve Coleman, Mutations will seem quietly intellectual. Tracks like "Air" and "Waves" are bathed in luminous string sonorities, throbbingly beautiful resonant chords or interlocking threads of melody. There is improvisation here, but it is more self-conscious and relatively restrained compared to the spontaneous roughhouse jazz improv Iyer has recorded in the past. This is music classically attuned listeners will find worth exploring. (ECM)