It’s no secret that we’re big fans of pianist Vijay Iyer‘s work at Suga’ in My Bowl radio. Since we did a partial profile on him back in 2010 (audio archived here), we’ve caught him several times, including leading his own trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, collaborating with the TRIO 3 ensemble of veterans Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille, or in any number of one-off combinations and collaborations. In short, we think a lot of him and his work and in that regard we’re far from alone.

That’s one reason why we were excited to finally get our hands on the just-released Break Stuff, on which appears several songs that we’d heard in various stages of workshopping by Iyer and the trio. It shows the incredible range of interests and influences that Iyer channels into his work and if you’re an Iyer fan, you should probably just go get it.

But this post is actually about the “EPK” (Electronic Press Kit)– promotional video to most of us — for the release, which I can’t stop watching.

Granted, music videos are nothing new — indeed, MTV and MTV-2 built their reputation on them even if they don’t bother actually play them much anymore — and groups known primarily to the jazz world have even dabbled in the genre to varying levels of success.

The EPK, however, is a slightly different animal, combining features of a traditional music video with that of the “press kit” that would generally go out primarily to journalists with written background info on the artists, creative process, and the like that said journos could use to write up a story or review. But it’s the 21st Century! So, just like everything else, there’s a transition to video and some of the things you previously had to tell people, you can now show. And since you’re already spending money on the thing, then why not just throw it up online for everybody?

That’s what’s happening now and as a result, for a lot of releases you now get a preview of the entire album with artist commentary and background info. When done right, they’re nicely produced mini-documentaries and the one for the Vijay Iyer Trio’s Break Stuff is done right.

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In the video, we get a seven-and-a-half minute walk through of the various songs that make up the release and insight to how things ended up being produced the way they are, such as Iyer’s decision to include the words from Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole‘s novel Open City and riffs on hip hop and break beats, name-checking Jeff Chang’s now classic narrative of hip hop history Can’t Stop Won’t Stop in the process. Crump and Gilmore are here, too and reveal a fair amount of their contributions to shaping the final release, including Gilmore’s near-obsessive attention to detail that confirms something I’ve seen him do: re-tune his drums in the middle of a live set. It’s fascinating stuff if you like to dive deep into the music.

To be sure, there are some issues to think about here, especially considering the cost of producing these things and availability of the platform: an artist with barely enough money to produce a full release that fits their vision as is will be hard pressed to also pay someone to professionally do a video and it also takes a certain amount of media savvy to pull all of this off. So there’s a possibility that promo videos like this will widen the existing gaps between artists.

But they’re a lot of fun to watch and you’ll get some behind the scenes action as well. So just watch it right now if you haven’t seen it yet. Even if you already have a copy of Break Stuff, you’ll probably get something from hearing Iyer, Crump, and Gilmore talk about it. If not, it might make you want to hear more, which, happily, you can.

We’re due to bring Iyer back for a full interview on the radio show and hope to make that happen soon. Of course, we’ll let you know when that happens.

Meanwhile, I have to settle down and give the album itself some undivided attention.

Have you given Break Stuff a good listen? What are your thoughts on it or the video? Let us know in the comments.

Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.

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