In his liner notes to Costumes Are Mandatory, pianist Ethan Iverson states plainly that this recording documents "the four of us in dialog with the Tristano school." That dialogue includes argument. Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, of course, comes directly from that school; Lennie was his mentor. At 85, Konitz is one of the music's most iconic and constant improvisers and he shines here. Of these 14 cuts, eight feature him and Iverson, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy -- the rhythm section of Brad Mehldau's trio. The rest are trios, solos, or duets. There are numerous surprises, including two versions of Iverson's "Blueberry Ice Cream." It's a blues and Konitz doesn't usually play them. But it's where he came from -- he was a vocalist in a jump band originally, and the pianist composed it with that in mind. Grenadier's walking bassline establishes the 12-bar notion, and Iverson begins a harmonic inquiry into Tristano, while Konitz moves right into the middle of the blues with that airy, dry tone of his, speaking sparely yet insistently. "Try a Little Tenderness" is a set watermark, commencing with a ghostly piano intro that touches on gospel, allowing the hint of the melody in impressionistically before bringing it in wholesale. Konitz uses a mute on the first chorus. When the rhythm section enters behind him, he dumps it and stretches the lyric to the edge, while never losing its languid beauty. Iverson overdubs his piano, solo, on an intro version of Konitz's "It's You," in homage to Tristano's examples from the 1950s, before the band plays their own. On the latter, Iverson directly opposes Lennie by channeling Thelonious Monk -- his least favorite pianist. Grenadier's walking bassline keeps the track anchored as Rossy plays another Lennie no-no: a busy syncopated cadence, much freer than the original. Konitz also extrapolates on the lyric and makes it elastic, deconstructing it in his solo. Another gem is the alto and bass duet on "Body and Soul," which is full of deep dulcet tones by both players as they move through, around, and inside the lyric almost symbiotically. Iverson attempted in vain to get Konitz to play on the R&B standard "Blueberry Hill." But the way the pianist pulls apart the harmony beginning with the second chorus is remarkable for being simultaneously knotty and elegant. No dialogue with Tristano would be complete without a reading of Konitz's "317 East 32nd." Iverson claims the saxophonist agreed to play it grudgingly, but it is a compelling encounter nonetheless. The pianist approaches the harmonics from the back end, while the saxophonist inverts his own ideas of its lyric -- only touching on the head at the end -- and Rossy's skittering cymbals almost strut against Grenadier's walk. Costumes Are Mandatory is anything but a conventional recording: these players communicate, inquire, and argue with one another as much as they do Tristano and seem to delight in the process, which is a reward for any jazz listener.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek