Bop sometimes sounds wan without a drummer, but in the right hands, a percussion-less group can deliver the goods by stressing punctuation – which is pretty much the way Charlie Haden and Ethan Iverson got the job done last night at the Blue Note. The tune was Bird and Fats’ “Wahoo,” which as the bassist said, is a spin on “Perdido” that has a fair amount of forward motion written into it. The gig was the first chapter of Haden’s now-annual “Invitation Series,” his chance to spend a week playing single-evening sets with a variety of pianists (Kuhn, Bley, Barron, and Charlap round out the shows). Iverson gave the head a crisp reading and fueled that forward motion with an mistakable dollop of bottom thrust. The evening’s fare may have stressed the graceful nature of the duet realm, but time and again – from the jaunty “Humpty Dumpty” to the melancholy “First Song” – a deep sense of pulse implied a palpable rhythm. Abstractions were kept to a minimum – melody was the set’s calling card, as it is the bassist’s signature trait – but Iverson added inspired maneuvers to a couple tunes, chopping one head in an amusing staccato manner and adding delicate, upper register flurries to the conclusion of another. It prompted the guy next to me – who otherwise seemed to know his stuff about Haden – to tell his pals, “this pianist is out there.” If busting inventive moves to nudge a performance towards a more vivid musical spot is being out there, I guess the dude’s right. Haden, whose earthy bass sound became more and more addictive as the set progressed, had a smile on face as his partner steered left of center. (See another kind of Iverson duet here, and if you’re in NYC the week of the 28th, hit the Vanguard to see how he and Reid Anderson interact with Paul Motian).
Which one of Haden’s duet discs is your favorite?
w/Kenny Barron – Night and the City
w/Ornette – Soapsuds, Soapsuds
w/Carlos Paredes -Dialogues
w/Jarrett, Coleman, Coltran, Motian – Closeness
w/Cherry, Coleman, Hawes, Shepp – The Golden Number
w/Antonio Forcione – Heartplay
w/Hank Jones – Steal Away
w/Hampton Hawes – As Long As There’s Music
w/Pat Metheny – Beyond the Missouri Sky
On the other side of town, an hour later, a similar kind of pas de deux took place. Marty Ehrlich and John Lindberg have spent plenty of time playing together during their three-decade association, so it wasn’t overly surprising that their chemistry was cool during a series of duets at The Stone. But the level of connection was so consistent throughout the night that the show was awesome in a way few concerts are. Pauses were shared, feints were telegraphed, flourishes were paralleled. When one participant wanted to turn the music, the other knew exactly how to help get the job done. From Ehrlich’s “The Welcome” (“the only piece of music I’ve written on the New York subway,” declared the reed player) to Lindberg’s “Sophie’s Lullabye” (“it never worked said the bassist of his daughter’s bedtime tune, “it always made her more animated”), their interaction was built on myriad curves. “We’ve played this tune a lot,” offered Lindberg before moving into “Generosity, “but usually with drummers.” Not a whit of aggression was lacking. The entire program assured that sympatico is all you need to have your music swoop, swirl, and soar. Hunt down Unison, a duet disc from “the old days” to see how long their rapport has been in place.
The Decemberists, “The Hazards of Love”
The Go-Betweens, “Bachelor Kisses”
R.E.M.,”Letter Never Sent”
Beach Boys, “Girl Don’t Tell Me”
Carter Family “Sweet Fern”
Marc Benno, “Put A Little Love In My Soul”
Mekons, “Darkness and Doubt”