In September, the MacArthur Foundation -- the group responsible for distributing what is often called "the genius award" -- bestowed one of its yearly honors on jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer. We celebrated Iyer's output last year, in the shadow of his excellent album Accelerando, but as luck would have it, he has a new album out in this month's roundup, too. Titled [Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project], the oratorio takes as its source text the remembrances of War on Terror-era soldiers. While tracks like ["REM Killer"] may present as aggressive modern-classical, there's room for Iyer's own piano improvisations on tunes like ["Requiem for an Insomniac."]
And Iyer isn't the only cross-genre visionary on this month's roundup. Saxophonist Matana Roberts' second chapter in her Coin Coin series -- which traces her own family's saga alongside the advance of American history -- delivers a mid-20th-century look at Mississippi, with help from a top-flight jazz sextet that includes drummer Tomas Fujiwara. (Check out how the whole ensemble gets a swinging version of the blues by the midway point of "Responsory.")
The legacy of ambitious jazz composition stretches way back, of course, which is why Albert "Tootie" Heath and Ethan Iverson pay attention to stride master James P. Johnson's composition "The Charleston" on their new recording, Tootie's Tempo, with bassist Ben Street. (They also work wonders with Mal Waldron's "Fire Waltz.") Find all that, plus the best new tunes off albums from Dave Holland, Ahmad Jamal and others -- including a fascinating reissue of Roscoe Mitchell playing pretty far "out" on a 1975 date -- over in the appended playlist.