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Vijay Iyer/Linda May Han Oh/Tyshawn Sorey - Compassion (ECM)

23 February 2024

With 2021’s Uneasy, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey inaugurated a band that will, in future, be spoken of with the same awe as John Coltrane’s early sixties quartet or Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet. The trio follows up with Compassion, an album that solidifies their chemistry across a set of Iyer originals and some choice covers.

“Tempest” blazes forward with Iyer rolling over his keyboard and the rhythm section providing insistent propulsion, all while emphasizing the tune’s inner grace. “Arch” knocks its majestic tune just slightly off-course, drawing the listener in with its bravado, not to mention a magnificent Oh bass solo. “Ghostrumental” folds in some subtle funk while layering melody over melody via Oh’s circular riffing and Iyer’s flowing chords. The knockabout “Maelstrom” flirts with chaos, takes it home, and massages it until its spine cracks and endorphins put it in a euphoric daze. Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah” contorts the bull in a surprisingly sturdy China shop, while Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” becomes a playfully percussive, yet still supremely melodic, showcase for the trio’s ability to ride a groove. The stunning “Panegyric” begins as an atmospheric ballad, but casually, organically, transforms into an epic of beautifully crafted, intensely passionate proportions.

The pieces here were composed for or inspired by a variety of sources – poet Eve L. Ewing, the pandemic-inspired live piece Tempest, a borrowed piano that once belonged to Chick Corea, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Emmett Till – but are unified by the musicians’ distinctive talents and uncanny interplay. While it’s too early to call it a classic, Compassion already stands as a landmark in its artist’s careers, as well as one of 2024’s most magnificently, passionately musical releases.