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2019-10-15

7:30PM

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"One of 25 essential New York jazz icons." - Time Out New York

Ethan Iverson Quartet featuring Tom Harrell - Common Practice

Featuring: Ethan Iverson, piano
Tom Harrell, trumpet
Ben Street, bass
Eric McPherson, drums

The latest ECM album to feature pianist Ethan presents the Brooklyn-based artist at the head of his own quartet in a program of standards and blues, recorded live at Manhattan's famed Village Vanguard. The Guardian has praised the former Bad Plus pianist as "endlessly resourceful," while Time Out New York selected him as one of 25 essential New York jazz icons, describing Iverson as "perhaps NYC's most thoughtful and passionate student of jazz tradition - the most admirable sort of artist-scholar." Iverson's quartet for Common Practice features as its prime melodic voice the veteran Tom Harrell, who was voted Trumpeter of the Year in 2018 by the U.S. Jazz Journalists Association. Iverson extols the quality of poetic "vulnerability" in Harrell's playing, particularly in such ballads as "The Man I Love" and "Polka Dots & Moonbeams," two of the album's highlights. Common Practice also has a buoyant swing, thanks to the rhythm team of bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson, whose subtle invention helps drive Denzil Best's bebop groover "Wee" and two irresistibly bluesy Iverson originals, "Philadelphia Creamer" and "Jed from Teaneck."

Although Iverson's pianism is shrewdly, poetically apposite throughout Common Practice - witness his rhapsodic touches in the solo intro and ending of "I Can't Get Started" - his playing is often remarkably restrained. He says: "Some jazz pianists like to treat a rhythm section like an orchestra in a concerto: `Just give me a beat, and I'll go to the stratosphere of my own virtuosity.' I'd like to do that - someday. But for this record, I wanted to work in the middle, to help things gel." Along with swinging treatments of "All the Things You Are," "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," "Out of Nowhere" and "I Remember You," the album includes a funky, Monk-ish take on "Sentimental Journey" fully led by Iverson, although Sun notes that the tune is "a faded postcard from the big-band era that gives Harrell the chance to dip into the Roy Eldridge bag for a moment." Iverson says: "Tom has a commitment to the jazz tradition that's deep. At the same time, I think he's committed to surprising himself. He follows a melody to an unexpected place." Referencing Harrell's affecting way with a ballad like "Polka Dots & Moonbeams," the pianist adds: "He's very vulnerable up there on stage. It's kind of like when you see an older movie with an action hero like Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin - they're tough guys, but you can see in their faces that they're hurting. Tom has some of that in his own way."

As for the quartet's rhythm section, Iverson says: "It's deep what Ben and Eric do with the beat. It's not just four quarter-notes in the bass and a ride-cymbal pattern - it's something mystical, spiritual. Ben is an old friend, a big teacher of mine. I've learned a lot about this music from him, and I really trust him. He suggested Eric for this, and I had always liked his drumming, having heard him play a lot in the Fred Hersch Trio. But I was curious about why Ben thought Eric would be so perfect for playing standards with me - but as soon as we started, it made sense. His time feel is both ancient and modern... None of us is approaching straight-ahead jazz like we want it to sound like 1955 or 1945 or 1965. We're playing in the 21st-century. But what I hope gives it depth is a commitment to the tradition, and when it comes to Ben and Eric, it's about esoteric aspects of that tradition, nothing academic."

Since Iverson came to New York City from the Midwest, he has worked with artists from Lee Konitz, Albert "Tootie" Heath and Ron Carter to Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Tim Berne, along with serving as music director for the Mark Morris Dance Group. Then there was Iverson's 17-year, 14-album tenure as one-third of The Bad Plus, the genre-bounding trio that he co-founded with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King in 2000. The pianist teaches at the New England Conservatory, and he has established Do the Math as one of the foremost blogs in jazz over the past decade. After their final set at the Vanguard, Harrell mentioned to Iverson that he thought the group's sound felt new, despite the vintage repertoire. In his notes, Sun concludes that jazz "is actually numerous concurrent histories and communities where towering personalities come and go, stories and legends are passed down, and much is ultimately forgotten while only a fragment remains. For Iverson, a long-held dream is realized here in his overlapping of the traditional and the avant-garde, the premodern and the postmodern, and the old and the new meeting at a single point."

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