Ethan Iverson Quartet - Common Practice

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Tom Harrell: trumpet; Ethan Iverson: piano; Ben Street: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.


Leading a simpatico new quartet, pianist/composer Ethan Iversen channels energies to a set of charming renditions of Great American Songbook cornerstones alongside two originals, whose bluesy nature goes perfectly well with the rest of the material. While teaming up with bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson in the rhythm section, the pianist didn’t hide his appreciation for having ace trumpeter Tom Harrell spearheading the melodic department.

Common Practice is a heartfelt tribute to New York's straight-ahead jazz. Iversen and his peers stroll through the polished surfaces of jazz standards, combining the mastery of fundamentals with an openness to embrace new textures and harmonic directions. Recorded at the mythical The Village Vanguard, the album is dedicated to that venue’s former guardian, Lorraine Gordon, who died last year at the age of 95.

Wee”, for example, conjures up that same festive, tongue-in-cheek vibe that characterized Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas”. The effusive Caribbean flavor announced by McPherson and Street becomes triumphantly swinging at the time that Harrell blows with intelligible hard-bop erudition, leaving space between phrases. Picking up where the trumpeter left off, Iversen articulates his speech with a mix of liveliness and insouciance before conceding the spotlight to McPherson, who expresses all the syllables of his solo with a clear pronunciation. This number has that pocket you can dance to.

If “Out of Nowhere” doesn’t really push the envelope, despite the galloping rhythmic advances that follow Street’s sharp-witted improvisation, then “All The Things You Are” attracts our attention through a rushing tempo and dazzling statements from trumpet and piano. The trumpeter combines the joy of Clifford Brown with the playfulness of Louis Armstrong, while the pianist explores phrase rhythms piked by some devious resolutions. This is even more explicit on Ellington’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, where he sprays colorful chord clusters and evinces an exceptional quality in the intervallic and contrapuntal activities. Harrell also soars on trumpet, twisting the melody with clever note replacements, which are sometimes prolonged for a surprising effect. While here he incorporates a discernible melodic fragment of “Summertime”, on “I Remember You”, he clearly salutes Charlie Parker.

Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed From Teaneck” are 12-bar blues by Iverson. The emotions continue to flow through aesthetically clean and pleasant choruses that never feel excessive. However, their emotional depth feels a bit restricted when compared with glorious ballads such as “The Man I Love” and “I Can’t Get Started”. The former, a real stunner, highlights Iversen’s brilliant piano work. At the outset, he invents a highly appealing intro that draws you in, and then brings a sweet languidness to his improvisation, built over subdued yet colorful brushwork and spacious bass measures.

To better clarify our readers, what he have here is more than simply straight-ahead readings of popular songs and blues. There are old pieces sounding new again. Thus, with an obvious bind with tradition, the album is never less than stirring and satisfying.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Man I Love ► 03 - Wee ► 10 - I’m Getting Sentimental Over You

Mark Turner / Ethan Iverson - Temporary Kings

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Ethan Iverson: piano.


Tenorist Mark Turner and pianist Ethan Iverson, two resplendent titans of the current jazz scene, join forces for an intimate outing. Temporary Kings aggregates nine compositions - six by Iverson, two by Turner and one by Warne Marsh - that, besides bristling with competence, allow for space, reflection, and expansion. Ten years after meeting for the first time in New York, the two distinguished players and members of the Billy Hart Quartet release their first duo album on the ECM label, opening with the introspective wistfulness of Iverson’s “Lugano”, whose melodic traits recall “Autumn in New York”. Turner’s ethereal contribution tints everything with a celestial blue, while Iverson, a marvelous accompanist, creates intriguing textures, contributing for the permeation of yellow sun rays through the scattered soft clouds. The title refers to the Swiss city where the album was recorded.

The title track offers great contrapuntal sections with folk-like melodies running on top of stunning chords colored with contrasting tonalities. Iverson’s initially spacious solitary incursion is transformed in patterns of pointillistic notes as soon as Turner starts to explore unanticipated melodic trajectories, which continue in a brisker way on the luminous “Turner’s Chamber of Unlikely Delights”. Composed by Iverson, this chamber piece doesn’t hide jazz, classical, and even pop influences, evoking at times the successful aesthetic of Marsh/Tristano. However, a bona fide tribute to these two musicians arrives with a strong swinging feel on Marsh’s “Dixie’s Dilemma”, a bop-derived study with the same harmonic progression of “All The Things You Are”, frank bluesy lines, and propelled by Iverson’s nimble bass conduction on the left side.

The game of timbres becomes particularly noticeable on the final section of “Unclaimed Freight”, a blues with a scent of third stream, whose theme blossoms through repetitive phrases expressed in unison. 

Delivered with a cool, quiet precision, “Yesterday’s Bouquet” is a lyrical ballad that sounds more ambiguous than Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”, despite some similarities between them. Iverson digs it alone, finding rich sonic palettes within an interesting arrangement.

Turner’s “Myron’s World” kicks off with a radiating saxophone introduction that shines further with the emergence of the pianist’s intuitive steps. Here, the mood comes closer to the snug post-bop of Kenny Wheeler/John Taylor, in a mix of charm and complexity.

The 3/4 melancholy of “Seven Points” is another product of Turner’s mind, closing out the record with a dreamy ambiance, equally graceful and intriguing.

Temporary Kings is a guileless jazz session whose bi-directional moves converge and diverge with an astounding conviction.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Lugano ► 06 - Unclaimed Freight ► 09 - Seven Points