The urgency of the tune "Combat Breathing" on the Vijay Iyer Trio's latest recording “Uneasy” grabs a listener by the ears.
Iyer, who — in addition to being an acclaimed pianist — is a MacArthur fellow and Harvard professor, plans to bring his music to the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis soon, rescheduled after the Nov. 3, 2022 was canceled due to illness.
He doesn't guarantee he'll play this piece, as the band creates each show on the fly. However, the Dakota is less than four miles from where George Floyd was murdered.
“Combat Breathing” was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, so it's likely to be part of the set, Iyer said.
The following is a selection of the conversation between Iyer and MPR News’ Euan Kerr. Listen to the full conversation with the audio player above.
Iyer: “It was actually used as a sort of just serve a protest action in 2014, which is actually when the movement for Black lives launched that because that was the year that Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner, and many more, were all killed in these extrajudicial killings by police.
MPR News is Reader Funded
Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.
But we use this phrase from Franz Fanon, that comes from his book ‘A dying colonialism.’ The phrase combat breathing had to do with what it is like to live in an occupied territory, whether it's a police occupation, or colonizing occupation.
So you know, he says in this under these conditions, I can't remember the exact wording, but it was basically that there is this sort of oppositional stance that one takes just by being in your body. And so it is a combat breathing, it is a way of breathing, that is oppositional. A way of holding yourself at odds with the system around you.”
Kerr: You are now taking this music on the road again. And I'm wondering what your sense is, as you go out and play in front of live audiences, have things changed?
Iyer: So actually, like, holding people in a space, being in a collective space together, and carrying people through an evening like that. It's kind of like we're being reminded of this very ancient capacity that human beings have to, to gather and build together and, and surrender to the collective energy in a way that's healing and grounding.
And that's why we have music in the first place. You know, it's a way of holding each other and moving together, it's a way of feeling together. You know, I think sometimes we experience a little more resistance than we used to, I would say, because some of that memory has been washed away a little bit about, like what that is.
I said earlier that I'm listening to audiences of that I'm responding to their energy. It's not that I'm pandering, actually, it's that I'm trying to take us all somewhere together. And sometimes it's like, we go somewhere together that people didn't know they could go.
Kerr: You said you sometimes sense resistance. How does that work?
Iyer: Audiences don't always realize that we're taking care of them. You know, they sometimes forget that that's part of what's happening.
I remember that phrase from, it was actually Don Byron, who used that, like, how do you take care of the listener? He was kind of giving a composition workshop or something. And hearing him say that was so like, radical to me.
Because it wasn't just about imposing your will. It was actually about considering their needs, considering their state of mind, state of body.
I mean, I basically like play with my eyes closed. So it looks like I'm tuned out but actually, I'm so I'm very tuned in and this was happening, you know, it's all because it's all happening aurally. You know, it's all through listening, that everything unfolds. And yeah, caring about how we move through this together.
Editor’s note (Nov. 2, 2022): The Vijay Iyer Trio has announced it will reschedule its performance due to illness. The trio was originally set to play at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on Thursday, Nov. 3. The trio has not yet announced a rescheduled show.