Album Preview: Ethan Iverson, Technically Acceptable.

Written by | New Releases, News

Ethan Iverson is gearing up for the release of his second Blue Note Records album, titled “Technically Acceptable,” scheduled for January 2024. However, today marks the unveiling of the album’s first single, “Conundrum.” The album features an array of elements, including blues, a rhythm changes-based tune, dynamic trio interactions, a reimagined song from the hit parade, and a rendition of Thelonious Monk’s iconic “‘Round Midnight.”

In line with Iverson’s characteristic approach, each classic idiom on the album receives a distinct twist. The first half showcases a trio setting with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Kush Abadey, while the rest of the set includes, among others, the first-ever piano sonata in the Blue Note catalog and a rendition of Robert Flack’s ballad “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” This rendition is given a 60s pop vibe in collaboration with bassist Simón Willson and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza.

“Round Midnight” introduces another Blue Note first: a theremin taking on the role of the main melodic instrument, courtesy of virtuoso pianist and multi-instrumentalist Rob Schwimmer.

“I’m interested in trying to wrangle these almost archaic forms in a modernist way,” Iverson explains. “When I play a 12-bar blues with Thomas and Kush, it doesn’t sound like 1944 in the slightest. It sounds like 2023. But at the same time, it is a serious throwback.”

The album spans a wealth of influences and eras, reflecting Iverson’s exploration as a pianist, composer, and critic. “Technically Acceptable,” released over 30 years since Iverson’s 1993 debut “School Work,” can be considered as three albums in one. The first part features new originals with Morgan and Abadey, Iverson’s new working trio. In a departure from his past leader dates, Iverson collaborates solely with younger musicians this time, bringing freewheeling invention to the concise forms of short tunes.

“The Bad Plus’ music was very tightly constructed,” Iverson notes. “We really knew how to reach an audience in a different way. Live we’ll inevitably stretch out, but I myself enjoy tunes that you can’t stop listening to for the duration of the piece.”

The album’s infectious opener, “Conundrum,” is presented as the theme song for an imaginary game show, followed by the angular jump blues of “Victory is Assured (Alla Breve).” “It’s Fine To Decline” is a more abstracted blues, while the title track plays over rhythm changes with an almost Cubist range of perspective.

The subsequent three tunes feature Willson, Sperrazza, and Schwimmer. Their experience on “The Look of Love,” choreographed to Iverson’s arrangements of Burt Bacharach’s music, infuses the trio’s “Killing Me Softly.” Iverson first heard the song not via Flack’s classic hit but in a jazz rendition by Hampton Hawes – his own take splits the difference. A similarly velvety feel cushions Iverson’s wistful “The Feeling Is Mutual.” In between comes the startling duo of Iverson’s piano and Schwimmer’s keening theremin on Monk’s immortal piece, in a version like none of the countless others.

The album concludes with Iverson’s first Piano Sonata, a through-composed, three-movement piece constructed from the composer’s era-fusing jazz vocabulary. Iverson aims to pick up the thread of 1930s music that blended concert and vernacular idioms, diverging from the post-World War II high modernism and minimalism that followed.

Reflecting on his own work, Iverson concludes, “I’m on a journey, but I don’t think it’s finished yet. My first album was called ‘School Work’; maybe in another ten years I’ll create the album ‘Flawless Masterpiece.’ For now, I’m ‘Technically Acceptable.'”

You can find Ethan’s single “Conundrum” on our Spotify “New Release Playlist“.


Last modified: December 1, 2023