January 12, 2020
Wigmore Hall, LondonPianist Iyer’s postgrad arts course brought Ritual Ensemble together – and this was an uplifting evening, with a star performance from vocalist Ganavya
Vijay Iyer: Ritual Ensemble review – thrilling curveballs from Harvards best
Vijay Iyer introduced the Ritual Ensemble’s concert in his Wigmore Hall composer-in-residence series by observing: “We all have an affiliation with Harvard University. But don’t hold that against us” – an acknowledgement of jazz listeners’ admiration for the unpremeditated here-and-now. The Indian-American jazz/classical artist and academic is a masterly juggler of polymathic erudition, improv’s strange detours and communally infectious grooving. But if this performance was skewed more toward hooky buildups and incantatory singing than back-doubles jazz deviations, the music was often sonically rich and sometimes thrilling, particularly from multi-talented young vocalist Ganavya.
Formed on the postgrad Harvard arts course Iyer runs, the Ritual Ensemble features Ganavya, virtuosic percussionist and mridangam-drummer Rajna Swaminathan, and richly experienced Cuba-born saxophonist/composer Yosvany Terry. Swaminathan’s opener of churning low tones and snapping accents led via a piano/sax dialogue to a gently melancholy theme, drawing in Ganavya’s rapturously keening sound – and a pattern of rising climaxes and quiet descents emerged, with Iyer’s precise but jazzily asymmetrical piano solos often spurring Terry into soulfully beboppish variations.
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