A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM)

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith

Released March 11, 2016

The Guardian Highest Rated Jazz Albums of All Time

2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll Top 10 Best New Album

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review






A cosmic rhythm with each stroke features pianist Viay Iyer and the musician he has described as his “hero, friend and teacher”, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Vijay has previously played extensively with Wadada in Smith’s Golden Quartet, but the present album is the first documentation of their duo work, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studios in October 2015. The centre-piece of the album is the spellbinding title suite, dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990), the innovative Indian artist whose improvisatory imagery evokes abstracted rhythms. Trumpet and piano interact here with creative sensitivity to tone, texture and space. Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith will be premiering A cosmic rhythm with each stroke at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in March 2016 in the context of a major exhibition dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi’s art and writings. The “suite for Nasreen” is framed on the album by Iyer’s composition “Passage” and Smith’s concluding piece “Marian Anderson”, inspired by the great US contralto.

Track Listing:

1. Passage (Vijay Iyer) 6:15

2. All Becomes Alive (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 9:09

3. The Empty Mind Receives (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 4:55

4. Labyrinths (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 6:43

5. A Divine Courage (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 9:12

6. Uncut Emeralds (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 7:43

7. A Cold Fire (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 5:55

8. Notes on Water (Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith) 7:58

9. Marian Anderson (Wadada Leo Smith) 8:23


Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics

Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet

Recorded October 2015, at Avatar Studios, New York

Producer. Manfred Eicher

Engineer: James A. Farber

Assistant: Akihiro Nishimura

Photography: John Rogers

Design: Sascha Kleis

Cover Art: Nasreen Mohamedi


In his liner notes to A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke, pianist/electronicist Vijay Iyer writes that while working in trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet/Quintet between 2005 and 2010, the pair often became “a unit within a unit.” Evidenced by Tabligh in 2008 and Golden Quintet’s half of the 2009 double-disc Spiritual Dimensions, this album (marking the trumpeter’s first appearance on ECM in more than two decades) underscores that assertion via distillation. It is one of essences. It reveals the intricacies of music-making according to principles of instinct as well as close listening. Iyer’s opening “Passage” is a surprise. The pianist’s gently investigatory chords and thematic harmonics offer the hallmarks of a chamber piece. Smith illuminates them with expressive songlike statements, though more insistent staccato speech occurs near the end as Iyer builds to an implied crescendo. The majority of the album is claimed by the title work, a seven-part suite inspired by the drawings of the late Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi. Its various sections offer a complete portrait of how deep and wide this duo can go. “All Become Alive” offers Smith’s bleating, sometimes fragmented high notes. Iyer offers quiet, gently pulsing electronic backdrops, a simple keyboard bassline, and eventually a piano solo that alternately moves along a line that weds jazz balladry and lieder to modal improvisation before the trumpeter reenters to combine and sum. “Labyrinths” is more abstract, choppy, and kinetic. It is a quick-thinking conversation that offers breathtaking exchanges, not only back and forth, but through the moment. At the album’s heart is “A Divine Courage.” Introduced by the subtlest of electronic bass/drone pulses, Smith doesn’t enter for nearly a full minute, giving the impression he is coming from silence. When he does, it’s with halting yet fully formed lyric statements. (One briefly quotes Miles Davis from “Saeta” on Sketches of Spain.) As the intensity of the bass pulse slowly increases, Smith responds with expanded lyricism, played straight from the heart. Eventually Iyer’s piano enters to frame it with droning middle-register chords and single notes. “A Cold Fire” commences with the pianist rumbling in the low register, alternately cascading notes and chords. Smith balances force and nuance in his playing, adding flow to the immense energy in their interplay. “Notes on Water” closes the suite with a moody ballad that could stand alone from it. Iyer’s Rhodes piano shines darkly underneath the carefully articulated blues and angular shapes in Smith’s playing. The trumpeter’s “Marian Anderson” bookends the album in a resonant assertion of tribute. Iyer’s care in responding highlights sometimes quizzical elucidations in the melody, moving the tune toward the unknown. It is the perfect consummation for A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke. The instincts these players offer in these works display the duo’s mutual desire for intimate communication and spiritual trust through the medium of sound. Their uncompromising movement toward them results in a shared musical mind that speaks in a distinctive, unique emotional language.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)