WhileTemporary Kings is performed by a jazz duo, some compositions reveal the influence of Stravinsky or Erik Satie. The music sounds evocative and, at times, ethereal. Some tunes, especially “Unclaimed Freight,” strongly lean towards jazz tones and remind me of Lennie Tristano’s work with Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. Thelonious Monk’s harmonic imagination also arises here and there.
“Lugano” evokes the opening credits of an imaginary wintertime movie about the domestic complexities of a troubled marriage. When I heard the title track, I thought of a spy story set in post-World War II Germany. The music conveys complexity and danger. “Dixie’s Dilemma,” on the other hand, feels jaunty and slightly humorous, something that would befit a film version of a Flannery O’Connor story.
A well-established tenor sax player for the past two-and-a-half decades, Mark Turner owns multiple credits as a band leader—as well as an extensive discography as a sideman. His playing combines the precision of Warne Marsh with occasional flashes of John Coltrane-like passion. Collaborator Ethan Iverson remains known for his work with the Bad Plus, a piano-based trio that occasionally uses rock n’ roll tunes as the basis for improvisatory flights. Both artists play in drummer Billy Hart’s quartet and appear on a number of his albums.
On their debut as a duo, Turner and Iverson create a powerful and challenging recording of chamber jazz that emotionally resonates as it feeds the mind. “Lugano,” an Iverson tune named for the town in Switzerland where he and Turner recorded the album, evokes Erik Satie in its opening section by way of delicate piano melodies pitched against dark chords. Turner and Iverson state a melodic theme in tandem, but Iverson then gives Turner a complex, occasionally dissonant background of shifting harmonies. The saxophonist answers with an arresting counterpoint. As it progresses, the piece intensifies before returning to the opening theme in a quieter manner.
“Dixie’s Dilemma” is a Marsh piece with a solid, swinging foundation to which both players bring a sense of adventure and a high level of inspiration. Iverson’s opening passage takes the song and builds on its melodic motifs. Running with Marsh’s ideas and expanding them, Turner joins Iverson across several lengthy choruses that demonstrate the former’s improvisatory skill. Another Iverson piece, “Turner’s Chamber of Unlikely Delights,” feels warm and beautiful—deceptively simple in comparison with some of the other compositions, yet witty and accessible nonetheless.
Turner opens “Myron’s World” with a firm melodic statement, sustaining notes to establish a stately, subdued atmosphere. Punctuated with counter melodies, Iverson’s chords unfurl behind him, and then the track shifts into a rhythmically emphatic section that gives both players room to spread out. Iverson’s solo carries suggestions of Thelonious Monk; Turner’s easy-flowing solo hints at Lee Konitz.
Some compositions on Temporary Kings are cerebral while others more resolve in a decidedly emotional manner. A few cuts, such as Iverson’s “Unclaimed Freight,” prove both moving and thoughtful. They pull you into wells of feeling as you think them through. “Seven Points” closes the record with Turner playing unusual intervals that sound vaguely Middle Eastern as his partner responds with modernist chords.
The analog edition of Temporary Kings possesses a slightly more three-dimensional quality than the CD. It also more convincingly presents the size and scale of the piano. I hear more of Turner’s breathing technique, and his tenor sax features added texture and a warmer timbre. The LP sounds generally quiet during passages when the volume drops, but didn’t initially present the black backgrounds I’ve come to expect from Pallas. A deep cleaning significantly lowered the noise to the extent I only heard a slight bit between tracks.
Visually, the single-jacket sleeve is medium-weight cardboard with directly printed-on artwork. The colors and the photo reproduction look striking. ECM’s cover art has always been a label strength and hallmark. It registers with convincing impact on the vinyl’s larger canvas.
Temporary Kings stands as an engaging, challenging statement by artists who have played together long enough to quickly react to each other. A duo performance puts great demands on musicians, but Turner and Iverson respond with balanced intelligence, strong compositions, and terrific playing.
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