Best known as a jazz pianist and composer, Vijay Iyer is also a physicist and a researcher into cognitive theory as it applies to music. Something of that scientific rigour seeps into the creativity of the American’s composing, the centrepiece here being Mutations, a 10-part suite for string quartet, piano and electronics.
Just as chance events may generate the mutations that we collectively refer to as evolution, so in Iyer’s pieces improvised elements may cause structural transformation (or it may be decreed by the “divine will” of his composing), The concept has ties to minimalism and its offshoots, including the Necks. Iyer controls the sampling of live sounds as well as being the key improviser, but the end result is much more intricately interactive than simply being his partially improvised piano layered atop the strings and electronics.
Process aside, this is gorgeously melodic and harmonically rich music, studded with textual and rhythmic surprises. The album is topped and tailed by pieces without the strings that contribute to a prevailing mood of pensive, slightly eerie, unsentimental sadness.