Breaks in music often refer to gaps of silence, some long, and some very short. Its a consideration of these ‘breaks’ and their importance that fuels much of Vijay Iyer’s new album, “Break Stuff”. Despite the pioneering work of Morton Feldman, John Cage and Stockhausen, some consider the manipulation of silence to still be an uncharted frontier in music. Besides the previously mentioned highbrow composers, breaks have found their way into popular music via the art of dubbing and other DJ tricks. Breaks in today’s music world can also refer to break beats and other DJ derived rhythms, and that sort of break also shows up on “Break Stuff”.
There is so much variety on here, Iyer is a restless creator and he fills all 70 minutes of this CD with a wealth of ideas and styles. “Break Stuff” opens somewhat pensively as Iyer explores some very interesting tone colors on the piano. I’m not sure how he gets all of his striking sound effects, possibly by going inside the piano, or that’s how it sounds at least. Partway through the second track, Iyer shifts into fusion mode playing strong rhythmic right hand solo lines that echo the young Chick Corea. On fourth track, “Hood” (named for DJ Robert Hood), Iyer and his group show their appreciation for Detroit techno, the form of techno that imitates African music in its complex rhythmic relationships. Other groups, such as Dawn of Midi, have attempted this sort of thing, and it seems Iyer and his group have achieved the best synthesis of techno and jazz yet.
The variety on this CD continues as Iyer takes on Monk’s “Work”, and shows a Monk styled playful sense of mischief. Other original tracks show Iyer and his rhythm section working with dense textures that recall recent works by Craig Taborn. Bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore supply intelligent support throughout, with Gilmore’s bold and original contributions taking on more importance due to the highly rhythmic nature of this album. To Iyer's credit, one of the very best tracks on the album is a solo piano take on Billy Strayhorn’s sublime “Blood Count”, which Iyer plays elegantly, allowing the rich harmonies to speak for themselves.
Where is modern jazz heading these days, “Break Stuff” offers a lot of possibilities, and despite this album's very eclectic material, it all fits together and makes sense. The uniting factor that ties all these tracks together is the band's stuttering modern rhythms that utilize silence, as well as sound.