Ethan Iverson: The Purity of the Turf (Criss Cross)

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Ethan Iverson: "The Purity of the Turf"

When pianist Ethan Iverson plays “Song for My Father” on his trio album The Purity of the Turf, it seems light-years removed from his best-known music (the Bad Plus, bands led by Billy Hart and Albert “Tootie” Heath). He plays the standard, well, like a standard, working the pocket for all it’s worth and piling up melodies within Horace Silver’s harmonic signature.

Until he doesn’t. Two thirds of the way through, Iverson rebounds from a conventional turnaround into a clanging, repeated chord that defies the song’s harmony, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Nasheet Waits’ support and any semblance of melody. The device only lasts about 10 seconds, but the effect is permanent. And the fun of listening to The Purity of the Turf is in the anticipation of Iverson throwing such wrenches into the works.

It happens to an unaccompanied (and mostly bridgeless) “Darn That Dream” at the close of the first chorus. Iverson introduces a dissonant, shape-shifting left-hand line that his right soldiers on against as though battling an unforeseen saboteur. On Count Basie’s blues “Sent for You Yesterday,” just when it seems he won’t subvert it, Iverson fills a whole chorus with a five-note vamp, then continues it into the next chorus at a slowing pace that strains so hard against Waits that it seems at first to distort the drum line. (It doesn’t.) On “Confirmation,” the mutations come every few bars.

His bandmates’ originals—Waits’ already-dense “Kush,” Carter’s “Einbahnstrasse” and lovely “Little Waltz”—do get rather straightforward readings (perhaps an indication of Iverson’s respect  for their work). So do the pianists’ two originals, “Graduation Day” and the title track, though these are such simple tunes that their structures are nearly irrelevant to begin with. The album’s repertoire of standards and how he reorients them toward his own twisty concept comprise its considerable pleasure.