Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell - Common Practice (ECM, 2019)

The Village Vanguard is one of the most hallowed venues in the history of jazz, so it is is the perfect place to convene a band that wishes to explore the history of genre in a small group context. Led by Ethan Iverson on piano, and featuring Tom Harrell on trumpet, Ben Street on bass, Eric McPherson on drums, this group developed a wide ranging program of standards, blues and a few Iverson originals. In the liner notes to the album, he states that part of the impetus of the session was to “support and challenge Tom Harrell in standard repertoire,” giving him space to express himself by improvising on familiar jazz compositions at a variety of tempos. (EPK) This setting bears fruit immediately with a beautiful ballad version of "The Man I Love" where you hear the decades of experience that Harrell has playing jazz, building a thoughtful and intricate solo alongside hushed and thoughtful accompaniment. The Iverson original "Philadelphia Creamer" is an exciting performance, taken at a medium tempo, with a great powerful and riveting trumpet solo that is rewarded with much deserved applause. McPherson provides classy drumming alongside Iverson's cool piano chords, and the whole thing just swings deeply. There is an even faster pace to the the Denzil Best bebop standard "Wee" with the band flying through the theme in a quick and punchy fashion, anchored by excellent bass and fast paced cymbal playing which keeps the rhythm boiling. There is an intricate percussion feature, and great trumpet led intros and outros, leading to a wonderful overall performance. The standard "I Can't Get Started" has the leader playing some thick, dark velvety piano creating a moody atmosphere. Harrell lightens the mood as he adds a more golden toned trumpet solo backed by soft and tasteful brushes. There is also room for a trio section of spacious piano with elastic bass and brushed percussion. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” has an emotionally resonant piano intro, perfect fodder for Harrell to pick up upon and build into a graceful woven solo feature. Iverson picks his notes with care, every one shines like crystal, and the trumpeter floats above it all with a light, pleasing approach. After starting at a bouncy medium tempo, the band turns over its motor for “All the Things You Are,” moving into a breezy fast paced full band improvisation that is a delight to hear, Iverson is sparse, letting the trumpeter play over the cooking bass and drums and Harrell sounds excellent in this format. He stands aside, letting the piano, bass and drums unit get a rippling feature that glides the performance in for a safe landing. This was an excellent  mainstream jazz album, Iverson's choice of songs and arrangements builds a compelling narrative arc through the set. The band as a whole was spot on, but Harrell stepped up as a featured soloist delivering some genuinely beautiful trumpet playing, which was warm and thoughtful and full of spirit. Common Practice - amazon.com

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