Click here to [close]

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Ethan Iverson – Technically Acceptable (Blue Note, 2024)

By Don Phipps

Perky upbeat bluesy – all words that could be used to describe pianist Ethan Iverson’s album Technically Acceptable. Meandering is another word. And, perhaps the more precise word, as the music presented does not hang its hat on emotional intensity or innovative phrasing. Instead, what is offered is relatively plain vanilla Iverson compositions and two covers. To make matters worse, the rhythm section (comprised of Thomas Morgan on bass and Kush Abadey on drums on all of the original numbers) uses “paint by number” lines that appear to wander in a blissful haze without noticeable definition.

In short, the tunes seem to lack personality. Again, the word meander comes to mind. Head-nodding meandering but meandering nevertheless, this, and compositions that fail to arrive at any satisfactory destination – think of cruising on endless freeways through the deep south of the USA, passing the myriad billboard advertisements for tacky restaurants, casinos, and hotels and the endless exits lined with pole-mounted gas station LED signs that extend to the sky – a musical version of a never changing landscape of ubiquitous kitsch that stretches forever.

Then there’s the puzzling choices of covers. One is the sickening sincere Fox-Gimbel number “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” that in 1973 was the number 1 pop song in the nation, and never failed to initiate a quick change of radio channels for many who could not stand the saccharine homage. And it is followed by the Hanighen-Williams-Monk tune “'Round Midnight,” complete with a Rob Schwimmer-provided Theremin line covering the theme with eerie wails that sound absurdly like an amusement park ghost.

Back to the originals – the only one that offered a modicum of interest was the Iverson solo work on his three movement “Piano Sonata.” The first movement “Allegro Moderato” capitalized on Iverson’s bluesy harmonics and abstractions. There are hints of Gershwin and a bit of ragtime and it seems Hollywoodish in its playfulness. This extends into the second movement, “Adante,” with blues progressions and Iverson’s precise touch. On the third and final movement, “Rondo,” a slapstick carnival atmosphere emerges – think Charlie Chaplin slips, Keystone Cop chases, or Dudley Do-right saving the damsel in distress. The ending is full-throated and pronounced, providing a successful conclusion.

Straight-ahead music is all fine and good, but its helpful if the performances are energetic and soulful. An album lacking this will remain where this album is likely destined – on the shelf.


Mike said...

I should have taken your review at face value...I managed to listen to almost a bar and a half of the sample track before bailing out...Thanks for your honesty it underpins the integrity of the good stuff that you guide me towards and from which I get so much pleasure.

Anonymous said...

It will not be remembered for the cover…

Anonymous said...

Are Conundrum and Victory Assured possibly tongue in cheek?
Technically Acceptable...What is the goal? Re-create some 1950s lounge jazz piano with a dash of dissonance and a few measures of rhythmic alteration, then back to the original plan?
Who Are You, Really? By this point I think Iverson is pulling a big joke on all of us.
It's like diatonia meets cheesy blues, meets Hans Groiner.
Ima Sumak on Midnight is the capper!
Mutual sounds like an attempt at the Bad Plus, minus Dave King and Reid Anderson.

I'm convinced this is a musical comedy.