July may still seem a long way off, but in reality, the Malta Jazz Festival is really only a matter of weeks away.

As local jazz aficionados, as well as a good number of foreign ones who fly in for this acclaimed event, ready themselves to take in what this year’s edition has to offer, we’re bringing you the first of a series of weekly articles – in no particular order – highlighting the high-calibre acts that will be taking the stage and filling the air down at Ta’ Liesse in Valletta with their inspiring blends of jazz and more.

The 23rd edition of the Malta Jazz Festival kicks off on July 18, coming to a close two days and nine acts later. www.maltajazzfestival.org

Vijay Iyer trio

“One of the most interesting and vital young players in jazz today” is how renowned digital music magazine Pitchfork described Vijay Iyer, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Grammy-nominated pianist and composer, who performs with his trio at the Malta Jazz Festival on July 19, has been raking in the plaudits on a regular basis.

The Los Angeles Weekly described him as “a boundless and deeply important young star”, while The New Yorker rated him one of “today’s most important pianists”, adding that he is “extravagantly gifted” and “brilliantly eclectic”.

The latter two are characteristics of note, shining through in his eloquent yet impacting execution when tickling the ivories. Iyer was voted the 2010 Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and, beyond the music sphere, he was also named one of the 50 Most Influential Global Indians by GQ India.

To date, Iyer has released 16 albums as a band leader, the most recent being 2012’s Accelerando, which was hailed for its mixture of intense original compositions as well as Iyer’s imaginative way of reinterpreting other people’s work.

Apart from Iyer on piano, that album featured Marcus Gilmore on drums and Stephan Crump on bass. This was essentially the same trio that played on 2009’s Historicity, the album that earned Iyer his Grammy-nomination as well as being named the Number 1 Jazz Album of the Year in several publications of international repute, including the Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll and the Downbeat International Critics Poll.

The trio also won the 2010 Echo Award (Germany’s equivalent of a Grammy) for best international ensemble; this on top of other awards and honours that Iyer had already received in previous years.

Throughout his career, Iyer has worked with many other artists, including contemporary musicians such as Rudresh Mahanthappa, Rez Abbasi, Craig Taborn and Ambrose Akinmusire, as well as elder avant-garde pioneers, among them Steve Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith.

Iyer has an adventurous streak when looking for fresh ideas, crossing boundaries where necessary, and in this regard he has collaborated with experimental musicians, hip hop innovators, Asian percussionist-producers, filmmakers, poets and choreographers.

In return, his concert works have been performed by the Ethel, Jack and Brentano String Quartets, the Silk Road Ensemble, American Composers Orchestra, Hermes Ensemble, and Imani Winds.

Clearly, Iyer’s musical career is a journey punctuated as much by prominent jazz co-ordinates, as it is by elements he has absorbed from other genres and performing arts.

More recently, he was appointed director of the Banff Centre’s International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, a programme founded in 1974 by Oscar Peterson.


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