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Pianist Ethan Iverson describes his fourth appearance on ECM as a nostalgic love letter to the jazz he heard when first arriving in New York City 28 years ago. Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, his first leader date for the label hearkens back to an era when standard tunes were more than jam session fallbacks. And he could hardly have asked for better company on the front line than trumpeter Tom Harrell.
Common Practice may be a love letter but it’s not strictly a ballad album. Of 11 songs, half qualify: “The Man I Love,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” Along with two spontaneous, “headless” medium-tempo blues, Iverson’s choices from the Great American Songbook receive superbly modern updates while conveying the original sentiments. Through sheer, masterful musicianship, Harrell and Iverson make each of these familiar songs their own via intelligent variations in harmonic, melodic and rhythmic refractions — with bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson offering consistent support throughout.
Maturity is key. Even on the classic up-tempo “Wee,” Iverson never overplays, carefully responding to Harrell’s solo only when conversationally appropriate. Meanwhile, Street alternates bass lines from two-beat to walking four, and McPherson uses his entire kit to melodic advantage.
This band swings hard, but their ballads are epic. Iverson’s piano intros are harmonically complex mini-preludes. On “Polka Dots,” he alters the bridge with oblique notes, beautifully re-harmonizing on the spot. Harrell often double-times with youthful enthusiasm. An Iverson trademark, the pianist uses two-fisted chords that totally ignore bar lines, persisting with harmonic sequences for as long as they take to resolve.
This beautifully recorded live set is all about four extremely talented individuals maintaining group cohesion, a prerequisite for the best jazz since its earliest inception.— James Rozzi
Featured photo by Monica Frisell.