Ethan Iverson’s new trio isn’t bad

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By Dan Emerson.

Pianist and songwriter Ethan Iverson will return to the Twin Cities on January 13 to perform at Fridley’s Crooner’s, about a month before Blue Note Records will release their new album “Every Note Is True”.
Best known as the co-founder of influential trio The Bad Plus, Iverson recorded the entirely original album in January 2020 with two veteran musicians he considers masters, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Iverson composed nine of the 10 tracks on his debut album for Blue Note, the only exception being DeJohnette’s composition “Blue”.
“The pandemic has closed a lot of doors but it has also opened a few, at least for me. Iverson notes. One of those doors led to the new collaboration with Grenadier and DeJohnette, since their schedules were exceptionally open at the start of 2020, due to the pandemic.
“After being on the road so much, I didn’t mind getting off the road and having more time to practice and compose,” notes Iverson. “I’ve been very busy writing and practicing and got a lot of good news. Last March I was on the cover of Downbeat for the Bud Powell 21st Century album, which was a surprise. I was quite prolific in the studio.
Iverson had never worked with DeJohnette, whose summary of former musical collaborators reads like a who’s who of modern jazz. Bassist Grenadier was the intermediary that linked Iverson to DeJohnette; Grenadier and DeJohnette live fairly close to each other in upstate New York. “I’ve known Larry for years,” says Iverson.
“I’ve always wanted to play with Jack. Some consider him to be the greatest drummer alive. Jack didn’t know me at all. Larry told him about it and I sent him some music. The three got together at a studio in Rhinebeck, NY, called the Clubhouse, to work with the music. They recorded the songs for the new album over two days in January 2020. Iverson gifted the finished album to Blue Note president Don Was, who liked what he heard and accepted it.
“It’s distinctive music but the melodies aren’t structurally difficult,” says Iverson. Grenadier and DeJohnette “didn’t have to read much. With both, you don’t need a lot of hardware. If you bring something really simple, not more than basic sketches, they will take it up and make it sound good. It’s very much in the tradition of those great Blue Note records from the 50s and 60s, where the tunes are memorable but there aren’t too many notes on a page.
“They’re both masters and every time I play with real masters I’m in awe of how easy it is. Often because they are incredible listeners. And these are people who are always fascinated by music. Grenadier is a true virtuoso who can play everything, and he is also attached to the bass function and the deep melody.
“Every Note Is True” opens with a surprise: “The More It Changes”, presents a virtual choir of 44 voices gathered from Iverson’s network of contacts. The wife of the pianist, the writer Sarah Deming, is the author of the text, which gives the album its name. “I’m a terrible singer,” Iverson admits. “You can hear my high-pitched chirp in the mix. But I love amateur singing! An amateur choir or a children’s choir is glorious, almost cinematic sound.
Another new composition is “The Eternal Verities”, an upbeat pop-classic piece inspired by the composer’s mother-in-law, Ruth Deming. “She told me that she loved to sit on her porch and contemplate eternal truths,” Iverson recalls. “This piece fell off me the next day. The melody kind of spins on itself in an unexpected way, but its harmonic frame is very basic. Traditional harmony is very, very important to me. It is eternal.
Since leaving Bad Plus in 2017, the prolific Wisconsin native has pursued a series of other projects. They have included collaborations with iconic drummers Billy Hart and Albert “Tootie” Heath; recordings with trumpeter Tom Harrell and saxophonist Mark Turner; and compositions for orchestra, big band and Mark Morris Dance Group.
Also in 2017, the Mark Morris Dance Group created Pepperland, for which Iverson composed the score (derived from parts of the Beatles’ Lonely Hearts Club Band) and conducted the group in concert.
In 2018, Iverson premiered his “Concerto to Scale” with the American Composers Orchestra; released the album “Temporary Kings” with saxophonist Mark Turner on the ECM label; and toured Europe with the Billy Hart Quartet.
In 2019, Iverson and trumpeter Tom Harrell released the album “Common Practice”, recorded at Village Vanguard, on ECM.
In 2021, Iverson’s well-received album “Bud Powell in the 21st Century”, starring Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash and the Umbria Jazz Orchestra, was released on Sunnyside Records.
Of course, how Iverson’s rest of 2022 plays out will be determined by the course of Covid 19, but he hopes to tour with his own trio (not counting DeJohnette and Grenadier, as they’ll be busy with other projects). Iverson will also be on the summer tour with the trio led by veteran drummer Billy Hart, also including bassist Ben Street and saxophonist Mark Turner.
“The pandemic has been very hard on everyone. We are all doing our best.
On the main Crooner stage, Iverson will lead a trio also including bassist Anthony Cox of Twin Cities and drummer Kevin Washington. The evening’s repertoire will be mainly composed of “familiar standards with a spontaneous twist.” We can play a thing or two from the new album. “

Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician.

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