A vibrant big band production, Bud Powell in the 21st Century finds pianist Ethan Iverson in joyous celebration of the legendary bebop pianist with Italy's Umbria Jazz Orchestra. One of the prime architects of bebop and modern jazz, Powell lived a troubled life and his musical contributions are often overshadowed by the addiction, racial prejudice, and mental illness he suffered. A boundary-pushing artist in his own right, Iverson shines a light on Powell's music, reinterpreting many of the pianist's classic compositions, as well as drawing inspiration for his own inventive originals. Although best known for his work as a founding member of the genre-bending trio the Bad Plus, Iverson is also well-versed in the acoustic jazz tradition and has collaborated on projects with many of his idols, including Billy Hart, Ron Carter, and Albert "Tootie" Heath. Since parting ways with the Bad Plus in 2017, Iverson has continued to delve into his love of acoustic post-bop, recording albums with Mark Turner and Tom Harrell, all of which reinforces his reputation as an improviser with one ear in the past and one firmly attuned to jazz's future. It's just this sort of balance he strikes on Bud Powell in the 21st Century. Interestingly, although Iverson designed the album as a big band session, he drew his primary inspiration from Powell's classic 1949 small-group recordings featuring saxophonist Sonny Rollins, trumpeter Fats Navarro, bassist Tommy Potter, and drummer Roy Haynes. To help him achieve this sound, he put together his own adept quintet with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Lewis Nash. Together, they bring their adventurous and progressive skills to bear throughout. At the top of the album is a two-part Iverson composition, "Bud Powell in the 21st Century 1: Chorale" and "Bud Powell in the 21st Century 2: Continuity." Harmonically lush arrangements, these songs, as with much of Iverson's work here, strike a balance between the acoustic modernism of artists like Dizzy Gillespie in the '40s and the more avant-garde approach of artists like Charlie Haden in the '70s. It's a bold combination and one that allows Iverson to mix lyrical harmonies with extended sections of probing, avant-garde vamp-style improvisations. What follows are equally vivid takes on such Powell standards as "Bouncing with Bud," "Dance of the Infidels," and "Wail," as well as a particularly burning rendition of Thelonious Monk's "52nd Street Theme." Particularly engaging is "Nobile Paradiso," a languid Iverson original that conjures the smoky, urbane jazz clubs of the 1940s in which Powell and his bebop contemporaries developed their sound. While it's almost taken for granted that Powell's music was key in the development of modern jazz, it still sounds as ear-poppingly fresh, especially when played with the passion and inspiration that Iverson does here.
© Matt Collar /TiVo