It was no surprise that Ethan Iverson and Ron Carter’s performance last Thursday was sold out: a partnership between one of the most innovative and contemporary pianists in jazz and one of the music’s most prolific and traditional bassists is a rare spectacle.
New Yorkers flocked to Mezzrow, one of the city’s newest jazz clubs, hoping to see a repeat of Iverson and Carter’s performances at Mezzrow last year. The musicians did not disappoint, delivering a commanding but light-hearted performance in the intimate venue.
Iverson and Carter’s mutual respect was obvious, each listening intently to the other and leaving plenty of space for both to shine. Iverson suggested each song to Carter before it was performed, and at one point was content to simply sit and listen as Carter played a solo version of “Willow Weep For Me”. They played a set of almost entirely standards (“Blues in the Closet”, “There is No Greater Love”, “Just You, Just Me”) and one of Carter’s originals. At one point during “Just You, Just Me”, Carter exclaimed “Just You!” as he stopped playing, making Iverson play an A section by himself.
Between tour dates with The Bad Plus, Ethan Iverson has carved out a reputation as one of New York City’s most captivating pianists. Iverson is not inclined toward the technical showmanship of some of his peers; instead, during his solos he focused on exploring every idea to its conclusion.
Iverson is clearly well versed in the traditions of jazz piano, playing with block chords, bebop-influenced lines, and an infectious swing feel. However, his personality and taste were apparent regardless of the repertoire – especially on a re-harmonized version of “Lover Man” and the duo’s last tune of the set, Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait”, when he played chromatic runs with his left hand under the melody. His playing would have been most recognizable to Bad Plus fans during Carter’s original tune, “Little Waltz”, when Iverson launched into high-register arpeggios with both hands.
Ron Carter, at 78 years old, delivered all the dexterity, power, and wit that the audience hoped for from a living legend. Carter followed Iverson through several harmonic twists, and often surprised the pianist with tricks of his own, all with rock-solid time in the absence of a drummer. His light touch was compensated for by his amp, which shone a flattering spotlight on the subtleties of his playing. Carter would often explore one motif for an entire solo, and wasn’t afraid to simply try again if he missed a run he was hoping for.
Beyond being a refreshing collaboration of jazz musicians from different eras, the performance was the work of two superb musicians delivering an hour of exciting and accessible music. If it weren’t for the crowd waiting to see the second set, few people would have moved from their chairs after the first set, but you can be sure the crowds will be back the next time the duo performs.