Jazz Club @ the Max (Orchestra Hall)
Cutting-edge jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, who combines elements of world music with straight ahead acoustic jazz, and whose style of playing resembles Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner at the apex of their popularity, was the featured attraction Friday evening at the Jazz Club @ The Max jazz concert series. But check it out: alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Iyer’s longtime bandmate, completely stole the show.
Iyer’s quartet performed mostly compositions from his discography, opening the 10 o’clock set with the eerie “The Shape of Things.” The band appeared to chant a mantra as if engaged in some form of collective meditation. Iyer did this to warm up before segueing into a medley of original material, but the medley was a fitting prelude to an evening of progressive jazz suffused with elements of Asian and African music.
Back to that sax man. Soloing on “The Big Almost” and “Cardio,” Mahanthappa had the audience riding high on every note. He showed a softer side, too, wrapping the melody of a ballad around his body like a warm winter coat. And Iyer egged Mahanthappa on all night, proving that as a bandleader and a pianist he’s worth every bit of the favorable press he’s received over the years. Iyer finally let his guts hang out on a smoking blues number the band played to close the show.
It was refreshing to hear this brand of experimental jazz music at a venue that normally caters to a rather conservative jazz audience. After each number, I found myself gauging the audience for its reaction to what was happening on the bandstand, and the crowd was totally into it. With such an enthusiastic response from the audience, maybe the Jazz Club @ the Max bookers and promoters will start exposing their audience to more progressive forms of jazz music more often. For now, this sparkling set from Vijay Iyer and his band was a great start. —Charles L. Latimer