Vijay Iyer Sextet at Wexner Center

The Wexner Center’s stunning jazz season rockets to a close with the return of pianist-composer Vijay Iyer on Saturday, May 20 for two shows at 7:00 and 9:00 pm (tickets here). His trio’s 2015 appearance at the Wex was a high-water mark even for that storied room and the Sextet he’s bringing to town this time right after their inaugural record date for ECM promises surprises and electricity. I was lucky enough to speak to bassist Stephan Crump in advance of their appearance. For excerpts of that conversation and live videos, read below the jump.

Crump has been playing with Iyer since 1999. Asked how they maintain their collaborative relationship for 18 years, he said, “We haven’t bored each other yet. We wind up working a lot together over a span of time – touring, recording, and working on new music – but there’s a lot of collaboration with other artists on both our parts. I think that keeps other input coming and other curiosities developing. Musically, that keeps things rolling, but there’s a lot of shared sensibility, too, on a human level. And at this point a lot of shared history in the brotherhood. I don’t necessarily see [those other collaborations] feeding what we do in a specific way, but it’s important to both of us.”

On the members of the sextet, Crump commented, “Of course, the trio is at its core. Vijay, Tyshawn Sorey, and myself. All the trio recordings have been with Marcus Gilmore [who appeared with the trio on their last visit], but lately, it’s been Tyshawn Sorey in the drum chair though I think Justin Brown’s with us in Columbus and Chicago. [Sorey]’s recording with us and there’s a lot of shared history and complicity between Tyshawn and myself and Vijay in the trio and other group contexts. He’s done some sextet gigs as well.”

On the front line, “Graham Haynes [on cornet] is particularly special when Marcus is with the band because he’s Marcus’ uncle. But also, he’s Graham Haynes. He’s incredible. Steve Lehman [alto sax] and I have collaborated, including a duo album for Intakt, Kaleidoscope and Collage, and he’s a member of Fieldwork with Vijay and Tyshawn. Mark Shim [on tenor] is another fantastic player who played with Lehman [ on Travail, Transformation, and Flow and Mise en Abime]. It was important for this to be a collection of individual voices. We’re playing Vijay’s music, but he wants what we all bring to the table.”

“The sextet’s been together for five to six years, but this is the first recording we’ve made. Vijay’s always very busy with a broad range of projects and ECM puts out a lot of records. ECM’s openness to other projects [including his chamber music on Mutations and his duo with Wadada Leo Smith] was important to Vijay.”

Asked about the benefits of being on one of the most storied labels in jazz and new music of the last 50 years, Crump said, “It contributes greatly, but I would say the most noticeable thing for me was just working with Manfred Eicher. When we made Break Stuff, I was excited to engage with ‘the ECM Sound,’ that sonic palette and atmospheric realm that’s generally part of the scenario with Manfred. I was thrilled, as I am with the sextet, having grown up being influenced by so many ECM albums from the past.”

“I did find that there was a definite learning curve, learning how to make the bass speak in that setting. The atmosphere and ambiance applied can be really cool, but I found I had to adjust my approach a little bit to make the bass in the music speak the way I intended. I’m used to a little punchier, drier context which was the case with the earlier trio records. The sextet is very muscular and punchy which I think will be interesting to see how it works. I know it will, but I think there will be some adjustments we have to make. I know I’ll be more prepared to make those adjustments having done it once before.”

Talking about the band’s repertoire, “A lot of it we’ve been playing for a number of years but at our last gig [a few weeks ago] Vijay threatened to bring some new stuff we hadn’t seen to the studio. So a couple of twists along with what we’re expecting. I think it’s a good experience to have both aspects. For [something coming together in the studio] the piece has to be something that can come together in that short a period of time and the ensemble has to be up to that challenge. I see the positive in having spent time with a piece to let it stew and develop, experimenting with navigating the piece in different ways over time. But the spontaneity of getting something thrown at you puts you in a different, less comfortable place. It may be a more raw position to improvise from. As a bandleader, it’s certainly legitimate to engage people in that more immediate way.”

Crump and I talked briefly about his plans for the rest of the year. In 2017 he’s already put out Planktonic Finales, one of my favorite records of the year so far with Ingrid Laubrock on reeds and Cory Smythe on piano and was gearing up for their record release show in NYC the week after our interview. He was planning a tour with his Rosetta Trio featuring Jamie Fox and Liberty Ellman on guitars through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Ann Arbor working through new music for recording a forthcoming fourth album. “I’ve actually got two or three more pieces I’m swimming around inside of [for Rosetta.] That trio started with me writing everything but Jamie Fox had a piece on Thwirl and Liberty has a tune on the new album. I’m trying in many ways to learn to let go as I grow older and I think it’s good for me on numerous levels. Trying to find various ways to let go. Not entirely, necessarily, but to loosen the reins.”


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