The Sanskrit word tīrtha (THEER-tha) literally means a ford, or a shallow place in a river that can be easily crossed over. Within a spiritual context, tirtha denotes a holy place near a body of water - somewhere where everyday struggles fall away, and where one passes easily into a deeper and more profound state of being. Aptly, Tirtha is now also the name of a phenomenal trio featuring three powerhouse musicians who at once honor and traverse the streams of tradition. It is also the name of their exciting new album on ACT. Individually, Indian-American pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, Chennai (formerly Madras)-born guitarist-composer Prasanna, and Hyderabad native and tabla player Nitin Mitta are already highly accomplished artists who shift easily among multiple musical languages.
Pianist Vijay Iyer's fifth album for ECM, 2017's fiery sextet date Far from Over, follows his superb 2016 collaboration with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke. Where that album found Iyer and Smith engaged in a deeply interconnected series of often abstract chamber improvisations, here we find him exploding outward, but with no less interconnectedness between him and his bandmates.
A cosmic rhythm with each stroke features pianist Viay Iyer and the musician he has described as his “hero, friend and teacher”, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Vijay has previously played extensively with Wadada in Smith’s Golden Quartet, but the present album is the first documentation of their duo work, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studios in October 2015. The centre-piece of the album is the spellbinding title suite, dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990), the innovative Indian artist whose improvisatory imagery evokes abstracted rhythms.
In his liner notes to A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke, pianist/electronicist Vijay Iyer writes that while working in trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet/Quintet between 2005 and 2010, the pair often became "a unit within a unit." Evidenced by Tabligh in 2008 and Golden Quintet's half of the 2009 double-disc Spiritual Dimensions, this album (marking the trumpeter's first appearance on ECM in more than two decades) underscores that assertion via distillation. It is one of essences. It reveals the intricacies of music-making according to principles of instinct as well as close listening. Iyer's opening "Passage" is a surprise. The pianist's gently investigatory chords and thematic harmonics offer the hallmarks of a chamber piece.
Though Break Stuff is Vijay Iyer's third appearance on ECM in less than year, it is the debut offering from the longstanding trio on the label. The pianist and composer has been working with bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore for more than a decade. They've issued two previous recordings together. Iyer usually works conceptually, and Break Stuff is no exception. In the press release he states that "a break in music is still music: a span of time in which to act." We hear this all the time in modern music, whether it be the sounds that emerge from composer Morton Feldman's extended silences, breakbeats by funky drummers or hip-hop samples of them, or instrumental breakdowns in heavy metal and bluegrass – they follow a moment where everything previous seems to stop.