Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Downbeat Critics Poll

Did anyone else throw up in their mouth upon hearing that Vijay Iyer won five categories in this year's DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll?  Top Pianist, top jazz group, top jazz artist, top jazz album and rising star composer.  Wow.  Maybe someone can explain this to me.

To my ears Billy Joel has a more refined, subtle touch than this guy at the piano.  Frankly, I despise the sound he gets from the instrument.  He's a great talker and writer, but his playing sounds like self indulgent banging to me.

When I first heard him play a decade ago, I had a mild, disengaged appreciation for his fusing Indian music with jazz, and was able to overlook his piano playing. I wonder... was it this fusion that endeared him to the critics?  If so, maybe my recording a duo record with my bagpipe playing father is long overdue.  Who would have thought that tapping into the roots of my Scottish-Canadian ethnicity might be the key to attaining worldwide critical acclaim?

Perhaps I'm sounding jealous.  Trust me, I'm not.  I just question if the critics (and their followers) actually listen to music, or if they formulate opinions based on social trends (fusion = cool.)  I really tried to listen to Vijay and find something to like about his music.  In his playing, and the conceptual approach to his trio, I simply don't hear much that appeals to me.  It doesn't capture my imagination or interest.  I can't even listen to an entire CD of his music without reaching for the remote.

You tell me.  What am I missing?  Certainly there is a musical reason he has won so many awards and was selected as Dave Douglas' successor at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music.  I just don't see hear it in the music outside of his Indian collaborations (of which his current album is not).   Do the DownBeat critics really think Vijay is a better pianist/musician/artist than Fred Hersch, Geoff Keezer, Uri Caine, Luis Perdomo, etc.I don't.


  1. Do you like the Thelonious Monk-Andrew Hill-Muhal Richard Abrams-Cecil Taylor tradition of pianism? That's where Vijay's coming from. It took me a long time to come around to his music, but his trio records (Accelerando and Historicity) are what really won me over. His sense of touch is different than Hersch and Keezer - it's never overtly pretty or tender in that kind of post-Bill Evans way. He's more of an angular player, in the vein of those I listed above or Craig Taborn.

    I think he's especially impressive for his approach to repertoire - mixing his originals with well-selected pop covers and obscurities from Duke Ellington, Henry Threadgill, Julius Hemphil, Andrew Hill, and others. Certainly that last aspect is why he was selected to take over from Dave at Banff.

    1. Hi David.
      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. I wish more people would comment here rather on Facebook. I can appreciate your opinions, but to my ears, Vijay simply doesn't belong in the lineage of great musicians you listed.

      Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" isn't my idea of a well-selected pop cover tune. His hyper-active vamp in the middle is almost comically bad.

      Sorry to be such a stinker on this topic.

  2. Hi Earl

    Before getting to your blogspot via your main site, I had checked out Vijay's Human Nature and I have to agree with you. Complete lack of taste, no matter how angularly brilliant "critics" may think he is.

    Thanks for your lessons and ruminations!

    Kind regards