Ethan Iverson

Burning Ambulance Podcast

17-01-2024 • 1 hr 4 mins

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It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. In fact, the last episode was released in December of 2022. I talked then to film critic Walter Chaw about his book on the work of director Walter Hill. Since then, a lot’s been going on. Most notably, I wrote a book of my own, In The Brewing Luminous: The Life And Music Of Cecil Taylor, which will be released this year. It’s the first full-length biography and critical analysis of Taylor, who is not only a hugely important jazz musician – along with Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and others, he was one of the pioneers of free jazz and really pushed the music forward in undeniable ways – but is also, I believe and argue in the book, a brilliant and under-recognized American composer whose work spans a much broader range than many people realize.

Ethan Iverson is also a really interesting American composer. You could be reductive about it and call him a synthesist of old and new pop and jazz styles, but he has a strong and recognizable voice that becomes easy to hear the more of his music you listen to. There are chords and types of melodies that he favors that set him apart from his peers, and he’s got a real attraction to big hooks, which manifested in the Bad Plus’s work in a number of ways and shows up in his solo work too. The Bad Plus developed a reputation for piano trio covers of pop songs that people often seemed to think were ironic, but were in fact performed from a perspective of real love for compositional form. A great tune is a great tune. And it’s worth remembering that they also recorded Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which is an avant-garde landmark but also has some really kick-ass and highly memorable melodies. After all, it was originally written for dancers.

Ethan’s new album, Technically Acceptable, is his second record for Blue Note and he’s doing some things on it that he’s never done before. First of all, he’s playing with two different rhythm sections that are made up of musicians more or less his own age, even younger than himself. Until now, he’s tended to record with older players, legends like Jack DeJohnette, Albert "Tootie" Heath, Billy Hart, Paul Motian, Ron Carter, etc. This is his first time post-Bad Plus making an album entirely with musicians of his own generation. Also, it includes a solo piano sonata – three movements, fifteen minutes, a through composed classical piece that still manages to fit under the umbrella of jazz in a George Gershwin meets Fats Waller kind of way. This album is a real showcase for him as a composer.

Ethan and I talk about Cecil Taylor in the interview you’re about to hear. We also talk about his work and how it’s evolved over the years, the economics of surviving as a jazz musician in the 21st century, and we talk about other piano players of his generation like Jason Moran, Aaron Diehl, Aaron Parks, Jeb Patton, and Sullivan Fortner. We talk about diving into the music’s history, and about how there’s as much to learn and draw from in the music of the 1920s and 1930s as in the music of the 1960s and afterward, and about the increasing movement toward composition in current jazz. This is his second time on the podcast – a couple of years ago, I interviewed him alongside Mark Turner, because they’d made a duo album together. But this time it’s a one on one conversation, and I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I did.