If pianist Ethan Iverson were based in the Bay Area, he'd probably work with the handful of top-notch musicians in the Mills College and S.F. improv scenes — artists enormously respected by their peers but largely unknown beyond those circles (such as Tin Hat Trio violinist Carla Kihlstedt and Mr. Bungle keyboardist Graham Connah). Instead, Iverson comes to us from Wisconsin by way of New York, with a healthy attendant buzz on the order of fellow pianist and labelmate Brad Mehldau. Iverson's latest release, The Minor Passions, has been creating quite a stir among critics and listeners alike, and rightfully so. First heard six years ago on local saxophonist Dewey Redman's School Work album, Iverson has since built a style of incredible dexterity and studious discordance similar to post-bop ivory master Herbie Nichols. On The Minor Passions, the now-26-year-old quietly displays his considerable talent without beating the listener over the head with virtuosity.
Iverson's playing has a polished feel that makes his difficult music accessible for some and too slick for others. But what sets him apart from the new wave of talented music school grads is his willingness to keep learning and growing beyond that polish. Splitting his time between his own performances and Mark Morris Dance Company shows, where he gets what he calls “a million dollars' worth of free chamber music lessons” from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Iverson shows an originality and emotional maturity beyond his years. For this date he plays with drummer Scott Amendola, who knows how to create unique spaces for pianists to work in, having performed with Canadian avant-garde pianist Paul Plimley last year.