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Vijay Iyer delivers a beautiful and bombastic solo set at Annenberg Center

Vijay Iyer | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

If you’ve dedicated any portion of your life to obsessively writing about rock and pop, you’ve probably arrived at an eventual point where rock and pop alone become…boring. Uninspired. You begin to explore other sounds, to expand your proverbial horizons. Sometimes the process can be gradual, and sometimes the gates can blow wide open.

For me, a major entry point not only into jazz, but the possibilities of what music can sound like using jazz as a baseline, was a hand-me-down vinyl copy of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, a double LP, 66-minute, entirely improvised concert where the famed pianist for Art Blakey and Miles Davis rocked to and fro across 88 keys, punctuating his playing occasionally with moans and cries, finding himself in moments of cathederal-like reverence, and later cascading into dissonant depths.

Watching award-winning jazz band leader, composer, and scholar Vijay Iyer give a rare solo performance at the Annenberg Center’s Harold Prince Theatre on Saturday night, I was very much reminded of Jarrett, and this album in particular. Continue reading →

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Hybrid Theory: Vijay Iyer Trio blends traditional Indian sounds with jazz this Saturday at Swarthmore

Vijay Iyer | via Facebook.com/vijayiyermusic
Vijay Iyer | via Facebook.com/vijayiyermusic

Break Stuff, the title of the latest album by the Vijay Iyer Trio, carries an anarchic connotation that might seem at odds with the taut, deeply collaborative music contained within. But taken in a more focused sense, those two words do capture the sense with which the pianist and his triomates­ bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore ­dismantle and deconstruct the basic elements of jazz to create their own unique and revolutionary sound. There is no more traditional setting in jazz than the piano trio, yet nothing this band does seems beholden to the past. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in June

PRISM Quartet | photo by Jacqueline Hanna

The word “community” gets thrown around a lot, but for the last 14 years, Jazz Bridge has done much to make it ring true with regards to the Philly jazz scene. In part, and for the general public, that comes through its regular concerts, which regularly bring the best local musicians to venues in neighborhoods throughout the city. Its true mission, though, happens behind the scenes, as the money raised by those events is used to help area jazz and blues musicians in need of medical and legal help. Continue reading →

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20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2017

20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2017

The more of your life you spend consuming music, the more you realize an essential truth: the records deemed “the best” in any sort of ranking system — whether it be year-end lists or the Grammys — are not necessarily the ones you should be listening to.

Or not the only ones, rather. An as I said last year, the stuff everyone agrees on is a mere starting point. So while we brought you The Key’s top 15 albums of 2017 earlier this month, today we encourage you to dig deeper and further explore the spectrum of compelling music that was released this year. For this list, we highlight critics’ favorites from The Key’s staff of contributors; albums that topped individual lists but did not crack our overall top 15.

From the life-affirming punk rock of Amanda X to the eviscerating metal of Converge, the defiant electro rock of Fever Ray to the compellingly personal rap of Ruby Ibarra, our writers and photographers make their case for those albums: why they moved them, why they impressed them, why they loved them and why they’re important for you to listen to in 2017. Read (and listen) on for The Key’s roundup of 20 albums you should not overlook in 2017. –John Vettese
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Here’s your guide to music at PIFA 2016

The dancers of Knitting Peace | Photo by Mats Baker
The dancers of Knitting Peace | Photo by Mats Baker

The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) will be back in town this spring for its third-ever installment. The festival, which is curated by the Kimmel Center, runs from April 8 to 23 and will feature over 60 performances and installations from local and international artists alike.

The festival features a number of art forms, ranging from theater, to live music, to sculpture. We at The Key are here to help you keep track of all of the music-related events going on at PIFA. Continue reading →

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The Necks will ring in 30th anniversary at Philadelphia Art Alliance

necks
The Necks | photo by Holimage | courtesy of the artist

Lean and intimate yet affording a vast palette of possibilities, the piano trio has proved to be one of the most resilient and malleable units in modern music. From the elegant finesse of Bill Evans to the skewed-angle eccentricities of Thelonious Monk, down to modern innovators like Vijay Iyer’s rhythmic expansiveness and The Bad Plus’ droll provocations, the deceptively simple set-up of piano, bass and drums provides seemingly endless opportunities for exploration.

Over the last three decades, The Necks have taken full advantage of those opportunities. The Australian trio – pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck – don’t just go deep; they’re sonic spelunkers, venturing into darker, more mysterious corners and finding unexpected treasures typically hidden from the light. They craft massive structures from tiny moments, typically taking the form of single, hour-long pieces that are allowed to grow and evolve at a relatively glacial pace.

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Pew Center for Arts & Heritage announces its 2015 grants

Pablo Batista | Photo by Bruce Turner
Pablo Batista | Photo by Bruce Turner

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage announced its 2015 grants in support of Philadelphia region cultural organizations and artists. Electronic musician and composer Chris Madak, percussionist Pablo Batista, the Curtis Institue, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, People’s Light, klezmer musician Susan Lankin-Watts, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, a chamber opera from composer Lembitt Beecher, and Bowerbird’s investigation of composer Julius Eastman, are just a small representation of the various organizations and individuals who were awarded grants. Continue reading →

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Amir ElSaffar and Omar Dewachi bring traditional Iraqi music to the Random Tea Room tomorrow night

Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist
Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist

On their own, there’s nothing traditional about the music made by Amir ElSaffar or Omar Dewachi. An Iraqi-American trumpeter born in Oak Park, Illinois, ElSaffar has integrated Iraqi maqam with jazz in a series of stunning and unique hybrid projects. Dewachi is an Iraqi-born anthropologist and professor at the American University of Beirut who plays the oud in the free-improv and experimental band City of Salt.

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Blending cool jazz and craft beer with Mike Lorenz at Tired Hands

LorenzAdmittedly, the first time I saw Mike Lorenz perform, I was there for the beer.  His Jazz trio was tucked in the upstairs corner of Tired Hands Brewing Company, a small-batch bar with impeccable knack for creative brews from only the best local ingredients. Apparently their taste in music isn’t bad either. Since discovering the new brewery himself, Mike has turned from just another beer lover to regular performer at Tired Hands, which he currently has exclusive rights to.  We sat down with Mike to chat about jazz and the nuances that make it so special.  Bi-Weekly you can catch him play upstairs at Tired Hands including tonight and Thursday the 21st.  Don’t forget to try their amazing beer and food, and remember to thank us later.

The Key: How did you get into playing guitar?

Mike Lorenz: I had a friend who played guitar, so I wanted to play guitar.  I started playing in 5th grade because I saw him playing, so that was in like 1995, which I always tell people is a great time to start playing guitar because all the stuff on the radio was ‘guitar rock’ – even though some of it sucked. If you wanted to play it, some of it was kind of hard for a kid beginning, so I always credit that stuff for why I am a decent guitar player. (chuckles)

TK: What, in your opinion, is the state of jazz?

ML: I guess if you read jazz stuff on the Internet, it dies every year.  Someone proclaims it dead ever year.  But there is lots of neat stuff. It’s just where the influence comes from.  There are some great Indian-American musicians who use jazz as an influence, there are people who grew up with hip-hop who use that as an influence, and I still think it is all jazz, but then there are people who don’t.  The thing that is kinda constant now is people taking in exterior influences.  There are a lot of people taking what A Tribe Called Quest did, or like J Dilla and playing it on acoustic instruments in an improvised setting.  A big name from last year is a person named Robert Glasper.  He released a record with musicians who do that really, really well, and it is basically an R&B but it is on Blue Note which is a jazz label and there is improvising on it, but they are playing what sounds like Dilla beats and stuff like that.

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