By Christopher Arnott
9:46 AM EDT, April 8, 2013
"How's the sound out there? How's the feeling? That's important too."
That was Vijay Iyer at St. Paul & St. James' Church at the corner of Chapel & Olive streets in New Haven on Saturday afternoon (April 6). Iyer and his trio were part of an ambitious Yale Jazz Festival organized by the undergrad Yale Jazz Collective. The fest included major jazz names (including longtime Yale Music professor Willie Ruff), an assortment of concerts, master classes and discussions.
The Iyer event was particularly special in that it was held well off campus, in a church that has developed a community reputation as a great jazz room. St. Paul & St. James holds jazz services on Sunday mornings and Jazz Vespers at other times. Iyer was clearly curious about the acoustics, noting that the first third of the set was essentially the combo's sound check, and that they'd "jerry-rigged" the amps in a short amount of time.
The sound was just fine. The vibe was even better—a mix of Yalies, New Haveners, jazz aficionados from around the state, people who'd wandered in off the street and probably some members of the St. P&J congregation.
I didn't get the entire set list down, but it included tracks from Iyers' latest album Historicity and some unusual covers. The mannered yet wildly inventive pianist presented variations of "The Star of the Story" by '70s pop/disco band Heatwave, the Herbie Nichols tune "Wildflower," Henry Threadgill's "Little Pocket-Sized Demons" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." The song "Hood" was Iyer's tribute to Detroit house/techno producer Robert Hood.
This was a fluid, moving, lively yet leisurely concert in an ideal venue. There was a groove that moved from the altar to the pews and heavenward from there.
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