This is Vijay Iyer’s first album as a leader on ECM and it puts his piano with a string quartet to explore the various mutations of the title, a series of pieces that gently soar, circling and moving from light jazz to very dense, almost crushing night music. Iyer has shown he is a prolific and diverse composer, as interested in classical and electronic music as anything resembling jazz – in fact he pulls from those areas to expand the role of the improviser.
Mutations arrives swiftly on the back of the collaboration album with Mike Ladd and is a different prospect altogether. The nocturnal scrapings, the slight sense of unease – it’s reminiscent of Kronos works and some of the pieces composed by Jonathan Besser.
The album opens with some stately Chick Corea-like frames of piano (Spellbound and Sacrosanct) and just a hint of the electronics and pulse that sometimes lights Iyers music on the following Vuln, Part 2; the piano dancing, Jarrett-like in the shadows and spaces.
And then it’s to the 10-part title work where the strings dominate, the piano often being dazzled by the cello and violin (Mutation VIII: Clade), it managing to come up for air to sign off the closing Mutation X: Time
The album’s final track is When We’re Gone, a piano coda that takes us back to the opening Spellbound, that in fact keeps us spellbound.
Iyer is on a roll and Mutations is a deep and extraordinary work.