Monday, August 6, 2012

Vijay Iyer, Tribe Called Quest, and Ronnie Foster

Ronnie Foster
The first time I heard Vijay Iyer rendition of "Mystic Brew," I thought of A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation." Of course, I quickly moved to Ronnie Foster's original composition of the song. Still, listening to Iyer and knowing that he has delved into popular music here and there, I had to also think about Tribe.

Like with many of his renditions, Iyer brings you in to a familiar tune and then takes you out, far out. On "Mystic Brew," he begins calm, tracing the known versions of the song. You're moving along easily enough with him and, about a minute and a half in though, he begins to stretch out working all kinds of angles on the work. 

At this point, it should be apparent that I'm not a musicology nor jazz musician, so I'm going to fail to provide you with the specific techniques that Iyer is displaying. I can hear him doing these things, just haven't found the necessary language to explain it yet. I'll keep working on it.

Tribe Called Quest
A major difference between Iyer's take and those of other versions is that Iyer and his crew -- bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore -- end up shifting the tempo in ways in contrast to how they begin. Gilmore keeps us grounded by hitting the snare on a regular routine throughout the piece. Then there are moments, especially midway, where you  witness both Iyer and Crump, moving in various directions on their instruments. It's fascinating to hear them talking to one another like that.

After listening to Iyer's tune several times, I went back to Foster and Tribe. I was into "Electric Relaxation" back in the day when it came out, but it was only listening to Iyer's piece on multiple occasions that sent me back there. It was also Iyer and company that led me to pay new respects to Foster's original.    

A Notebook on Vijay Iyer

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