Of all the instrumental configurations in jazz, the piano trio is among the most durable. But arguably, it's also the most creatively challenging. The music that emerges from the interplay of piano, bass and drums can be exhilarating, but it takes players who are gloriously in sync.
In the case of pianist Vijay Iyer and his trio, that's no problem. His chemistry with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore runs the gamut from subtle to explosive — a dynamic that should be on rapturous display during their engagement next week at Jazz at the Bistro.
The set list is likely to include selections from Iyer's fine new album, "Accelerando." It's a sterling showcase for the pianist's adventurous yet accessible style.
"One thing I like trying with this band is reaching for something far outside the trio continuum," Iyer said recently from New York. With Crump and Gilmore, he's established "a rapport and an identifiable energy. That's really important to the music."
"Accelerando" features 11 compositions — five originals, and an eclectic range of covers including Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," Henry Threadgill's "Little Pocket Size Demons," Duke Ellington's "The Village of the Virgins" and Herbie Nichols' "Wildflower." It's a state-of-the-art piano trio album with a sensibility somewhere between the classic lyricism of Bill Evans and the iconoclastic discord of Cecil Taylor.
Jazz purists may wince at the presence of "Human Nature," a pop tune that would seem to lack the gravitas of works by Ellington, Nichols and Threadgill. But in Iyer's hands, the Jackson tune takes on an affecting grandeur.
"It's something that developed over time," Iyer says. "We've had a lot of chances to play it live."
Coming up with a trio arrangement for Threadgill's intricate "Little Pocket Size Demons" was a challenge, Iyer says.
"There's a lot of moving parts in that piece," he says. "It has this kind of orchestral sweep, and it almost hits you like dance music."
These days, jazz groups tend to be short-lived. But Iyer, Crump and Gilmore have been "a stable working unit" for a decade, with the trio spinning off from a quartet featuring saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
"It's just been really rewarding, because you discover things in the course of performance that you don't find anywhere else," Iyer says.
Vijay Iyer Trio
When 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through March 17 • Where Jazz at the Bistro, 3536 Washington Boulevard • How much $25 Wednesday-Thursday; $30 March 16-17 • More info 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com; 314-289-4030 or jazzstl.org