Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell ‘Common Practice’ CD (ECM) 5/5

Recorded live at Manhattan’s famed Village Vanguard, “Common Practice” features a set of standards and blues tunes, expertly performed and led by pianist Iverson, featuring the prime melodic voice of veteran trumpeter Tom Harrell. Iverson convened a group specifically to support and challenge Harrell. “Tom is one of the greatest living soloists. 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.” And indeed, Harrell is in immaculate form, and together with Ben Street on double bass and Eric McPherson on drums, the quartet shine an intoxicating light on the tunes they perform, making this a truly wonderful album.

Listeners familiar with Iverson’s music via his 17 year tenure with trio The Bad Plus, could perhaps be a little surprised at the fact that the pianist chose to perform a set of standards, yet it’s clear from listening to the music on this session that he uses his skill and knowledge, along with tradition, to bring an innovative edge to the session. His playing, and listening, is masterful, and often restrained, letting Harrell take the lead, with subtlety and gentle nuances intelligently worked into the music. After the final set at The Vanguard, Harrell mentioned to Iverson that he thought the group’s sound felt new, despite the vintage repertoire, and that’s the beauty of this music, it can be enjoyed on so many different levels. And for Iverson, a long-held dream is realised in his overlapping of the traditional and the avant-garde, the premodern and the postmodern, the old and the new meeting at a single point.

There’s a gentle vulnerability to Harrell’s playing, but boy can he also swing. With this exemplary rhythm section, the iconic trumpeter is in focussed yet relaxed mood, at times allowing that exposed openness to touch the soul, whilst also hitting startling heights of melodic virtuosity as he swings as if it’s his last night on Earth. The album opener, Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” is given an expansive, especially ruminative treatment and is a truly beautiful rendition of this oldest of tunes. Iverson goes into a gorgeous rhapsodic mode on “I Can’t Get Started”, giving the tune a warm, lyrical hue. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” is simply stunning, and the bebop groover “Wee” sits nicely alongside two irresistible and surprisingly bluesy Iverson originals, “Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed from Teaneck”. The jazz tradition runs deep through old favourites such as “All The Things You Are”, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, and “I Remember You”, with a funky take on “Sentimental Journey” showing how well this quartet are able to draw on that tradition yet turn it seamlessly into something fresh and inspiring.

One of my favourite albums of the year so far, “Common Practice” should appeal to many. This is jazz of the highest standard, performed with subtlety and vision, with a great atmosphere and endearing nature, it just gets better and better the more I listen to it.

Mike Gates

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Mark Turner / Ethan Iverson ‘Temporary Kings’ LP/CD (ECM) 3/5