Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell: Common Practice

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Alan Broadbent’s recent, superb New York Notes made me ask, “You thought that bebop is a curatorial exercise – that it’s no longer a living music? Think again”. That album made an immediate impact – pianist Ethan Iverson’s release takes a little longer to pull the listener in. Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, it might be mistaken for a mainstream jam session, with swing grooves, and a repertoire of standards plus two blues originals.

On a first listen, therefore, it might come across as a superbly recorded revisiting of tradition – an assessment suggested by Iverson’s description:”A lot of modern jazz [is] about deconstructing the history… But at some point, many artists try to reassess the tradition and their heritage, and this album is about that… There was a list of songs, and we played a couple of blues pieces … it was all about a common language… After a week at the Vanguard, we had all agreed on what our roles were in the ensemble”. Bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson are totally simpatico partners in the project. 

As Iverson rightly comments, “While it is always great to hear brand new compositions with every new Harrell band, there’s something to be said for just counting off familiar tunes and letting Tom blow”. But two highly individual soloists, Iverson and Harrell, mean that it’s not just a blowing session. What a superb trumpeter Harrell is. There’s a vulnerability in his playing, apparent on ballads such as The Man I Love and I Can’t Get Started – both taken at a glacial tempo, but full of feeling – but also on mid-tempo performances like I’m Getting Sentimental Over You. The pianist is a master of the unobvious move. A highlight is Denzil Best’s Wee in calypso rhythm, and a gorgeously plangent, oblique Out Of Nowhere.

Until recently with The Bad Plus trio, the pianist is now working on a range of new projects, and is an ECM regular – the new album follows last year’s duo with saxophonist Mark Turner, Temporary Kings, and two releases with the Billy Hart Quartet. He’s worked sympathetically with older masters: apart from Billy Hart, with Albert “Tootie” Heath – some beautiful releases – and Ron Carter. Tom Harrell, who’s 73, certainly belongs in that category, and the result is an artistic triumph – I’ve been gradually increasing the number of stars, and just removed the brackets round the last one. Harrell’s solos in particular, in their apparent simplicity, pathos and melodic beauty, are some of the finest you’ll hear among this year’s releases. As it’s ECM, the live recording is palpably present.

Discography
The Man I Love; Philadelphia Creamer; Wee; I Can’t Get Started; Sentimental Journey; Out Of Nowhere; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; All The Things You Are; Jed From Teaneck; I’m Getting Sentimental Over You; I Remember You (65.58)
Harrell (t); Iverson (p); Ben Street (b); Eric McPherson (d). New York, January 2017.
ECM 778 3350