Music review: Vijay Iyer Sextet/Zoe Rahman Trio

'WE'LL play till they tell us to stop,' announced the New York pianist and band leader by way of introducing his muscular sextet's Edinburgh Jazz Festival debut.

Pianist and band leader Vijay Iyer led his sextet in a powerful, uncompromising set
Pianist and band leader Vijay Iyer led his sextet in a powerful, uncompromising set

Assembly Hall, Edinburgh ****

And didn’t they just, in a solid hour and half of pretty unremitting turbulence. They nailed their colours to the mast straight away, Iyer’s vivacious piano intro joined by staccato riffing as the triple horns of Mark Shim, Steve Lehman and Graham Haynes swung into action, Shim’s tenor sax blowing a rip-roaring break, followed by Haynes’s flugelhorn, initially muted then processed through laptop electronics to deliver long notes that whirred and twittered weirdly, sounding at times like a demented Moog.

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Lehman’s alto sax contrasted waspishly with the mighty honking of Shim’s tenor instrument. There was the staccato signalling and 
ominous horns of the title track of the sextet’s widely acclaimed album, Far From Over, while elsewhere Iyer’s stealthy deliberations on piano and chiming keyboard would build up a head of steam, to be joined by a rising chorus of brass then into the funky slam of Nope, or the scrambling horn brawl and mighty, polyrhythmic fusillade from drummer Jeremy Dutton in Down to the Wire.

It was powerful, hard-edged music, which perhaps could have done with a few spoken intros by way of heightened communication. Uncompromising music, perhaps for these chaotic times: in closing, Iyer acknowledged that we’d had a certain other US visitor over the previous few days, and assured us that, in such troubled times, he and his band were here to represent “truth and compassion and human rights”, which earned them an additional roar of applause.

Opening the evening was Zoe Rahman and her Trio, the MOBO-winning pianist, whose Anglo-Bengali heritage (plus an Irish granny thrown into the mix), meant that their short but fluidly ranging set progressed from the introductory rolling and churning of her own Red Squirrel to sets which morphed cheerfully from music by Rabindranath Tagore into a perky Celtic jig, her regular sidemen, bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Gene Calderazzo in hot pursuit.

The limber boogieing of Zantastic suddenly veered into the stately, resounding chords of Epicentre, with its occasional, eastern-sounding twang of plucked piano wires, while the catchy and increasingly animated Conversation with Nellie, with warm bass work from Dankworth, closed a set which was begging for a gig of its own.