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INTERVIEW: Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus

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Monday June 25, 2012

from EMusic

Interview: Ethan Iverson
By Kevin Whitehead

Ethan Iverson is a polymath: a jazz pianist equally comfortable playing Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” at a cozy club like Smalls and knocking out Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” on a theater stage with The Bad Plus, the hugely influential trio he co-leads with drummer Dave King and bassist Reid Anderson. These days, they mostly play original music, although lately they’ve been playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on the road. Their new album Made Possible is due in September.

The pianist also writes about jazz in a clear, accessible way from an insider’s perspective; his blog Do the Math, where he also writes on classical music and crime fiction, is essential reading for jazzhounds. This year he’s also appeared on drummer Billy Hart’s lively lovely All Our Reasons, to which Ethan contributed three tunes.

Iverson and this writer became friends when our New York years overlapped two decades ago, not least because of our shared love of 1980s jazz. Invited to talk to eMusic about five records important to him, he zeroed in on that decade, suggesting I pick a few mutual favorites to talk about, drawn from an annotated list of select period music he’d put together for Do the Math.

Anything to say about the ’80s to get started?
I graduated from high school in 1991, and did the bulk of my early record collecting before then, back in Wisconsin — before I was broke in New York and could barely afford any. I may have bought all the records we’re talking about here on LP. I love ’80s jazz. All three of us in the Bad Plus are deeply informed by it. Before I knew jazz history or read the books, this was some of the music I was most excited about. Song X meant more to me than Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic records, in terms of my own development.

Song X surprised some people, because Ornette’s co-leader was Pat Metheny.
Pat first reached people through melodic pop jazz, easy listening in a good way. It’s hard to write a melody the average biped wants to groove along with. (If you think it’s easy, try it.) But one thing that helped develop that talent was his immersion in Ornette Coleman’s music. Ornette’s alto melodies are touched by purest love, genius, logic, hummability: everything you want from a melody. “Kathelin Grey” and “Mob Job,” those tunes are incredibly beautiful.

Yet the music can be incredibly dense.
You’ve got to admire the balls of it. Ornette’s gift for melody is second to none, but he also likes to rub up against it, like when he busts out his noise violin on “Mob Job.” Denardo Coleman plays a lot of electronic percussion, which can sound dated today. But on the next Bad Plus record, Dave King plays some, specifically inspired by what Denardo does here. I also have to mention Charlie Haden, who hooks those alto melodies to his chorale-like bass accompaniment: truly exquisite. Metheny and Keith Jarrett both played a lot of Ornette-type music with Charlie. He’s a huge part of the puzzle, and probably doesn’t get the Elvin Jones-level credit he deserves.

Read the full article here