The Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson has assembled a fascinating quartet comprised of the staunch 85-year old alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and the former rhythm section from the Brad Mehldau Trio, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. Konitz was the most renowned student of the idiosyncratic jazz pioneer Lennie Tristano, and in his typically stellar liner notes, Iverson claims that Costumes Are Mandatory “documents the four of us in dialog with the Tristano school.”
But the highlights here often stem from Iverson jostling the venerable Konitz into fresh contexts, beginning with the two versions of the blues “Blueberry Ice Cream” that bookend the disc. “Body and Soul,” a duet between Konitz and Grenadier, is another gem, featuring some of the year’s finest contra bass jazz, a song in which Konitz is both maestro and foil. (Tristano famously believed bass and drums should stick to a metronomic script.)
Despite Iverson’s entreaties, Konitz sits out on a rendition of the Fats Domino hit, “Blueberry Hill,” which would be anathema to Tristano but just right for some Bad Plus-style revelry and deconstruction from Iverson. The two do combine for some deconstruction on a brilliantly terse, impressionistic and ultimately sweet version of “Try A Little Tenderness,” that will be mostly unrecognizable to Otis Redding and Frank Sinatra fans, but is quintessential Konitz and rewards repeated listens. Tristano is directly addressed on his own “317 East 32nd St.” and a standard he and Konitz used to play, “It’s You Or No One,” but the melody is delivered only at the end, and where Iverson’s apes Tristano’s rigorously knotty implacability on “It’s You (Tempo Complex),” he opts for the model of Thelonious Monk on the more complete take of “It’s You.”
Meanwhile, Ethan Iverson is a presence to be treasured in jazz today, from his ever-enlightening blog, Do The Math, to his superb liner notes (his comments on Eric Revis’s City of Asylum are better than any review), to inspired, adventurous assemblages like the quartet on Costumes Are Mandatory. Long may he roam.