"Historicity in philosophy is the underlying concept of history, or the intersection of teleology (the concept and study of progress and purpose) temporality (the concept of time) and historiography (semiotics and history of history). Varying conceptualizations of historicity emphasize linear progress or the repetition or modulation of past events." (Wikipedia)Now, I'm not sure what all of that means, or exactly what Iyer is trying to say titling his album that, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the grand and vast tradition of jazz innovators before him, and the synthesis of their influences on his own playing, and how he has became a part of that tradition by cooking up something truly new in the process...or....
Okay, enough philosophical rambling. Here we have an album of three startlingly virtuosic and intelligent improvisers going crazy. The first album that springs to mind to compare this to is Gently Disturbed by the Avishai Cohen Trio, but their similarities are on the superficial side. Both feature piano trios in which all three players take on an equally important and expressive role. Both feature insane technicality, especially with rhythm, and both display near-constant improvisational genius and sensitive group interplay. But Gently Disturbed has Israeli melodies at its core, so the songs tend to have an epic and emotionally moving (sometimes sentimental) feel, and a deep sense of tradition. (By the way, Gently Disturbed is one of my very favorite albums on this blog).
Historicity as I hear it is all about modernity, intellectual muscle and sheer surprise. Vijay Iyer brings to mind acknowledged master improvisers like Keith Jarrett, Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, but somehow manages to sound like none of them. He is some sort of relentless idea-machine; passage by passage his lines are constantly sliding into new contours and rhythmic patterns, expanding and contracting time, exploring every inch of the space conjured by the given piece. If heard totally on its own, I'm not sure all the piano music on Historicity could make sense, but Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) are the sort of players with that seemingly telepathic gift, who can not only keep up with Iyer, but reveal his abstract stream's unmistakable structure and form.
There are four Iyer originals here, and a number of intriguing covers, including Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" (check out Hill's great Blue Note album of the same name), Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story, Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother", and an awesome, hard rollicking rendition of "Galang" by M.I.A. (say what?? - yes!). All the covers are executed with total originality and wit, and some of them are very funky.
From what I've read, Iyer's previous albums have been fusions of jazz and world music. I'm interested to hear him in that context, but he sounds beyond amazing in this one, and I hope he continues to explore this kind of edgy, super creative modern jazz on future releases.