The initial musical connection between saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist Ethan Iverson was made in 1990s jam sessions in New York City. A decade after their first meeting, the saxophonist and pianist began an association in the Billy Hart Quartet, the two players featuring on two widely lauded ECM albums by that band. Now with Temporary Kings – their debut on record as a duo – Turner and Iverson explore aesthetic common ground that encompasses the cool-toned intricacies of the Lennie Tristano/Warne Marsh jazz school, as well as the heightened intimacy of modernist chamber music.
Temporary Kings presents six originals by Iverson (such as the nostalgic solo tune "Yesterday's Bouquet") and two by Turner (including "Myron's World," which has acquired near-classic status among a generation of jazz players). There's an off-kilter blues ("Unclaimed Freight") and a strikingly melodic, almost Ravelian opening track dedicated to the Swiss town where the album was recorded ("Lugano"), plus an interpretation of Marsh's playfully serpentine "Dixie's Dilemma." Undergirding their common history onstage and in the studio, Iverson and Turner share aesthetic enthusiasms, ranging from literary science fiction to a certain free-minded classicism in music.
The sessions for Temporary Kings at the RSI Svizzera studio with Manfred Eicher were characteristically marked by deep listening and an appreciation for what Iverson calls "magical confluences" and "happy surprises," such as the dovetailing melodic phrases in the improvisations of "Lugano." Iverson adds: "We were playing in a spacious, almost abstract way, not going for a hard-edged jazz sound at all. That said, there's a blues on the album, my tune ‘Unclaimed Freight,' and ‘Dixie's Dilemma' is a contrafact on ‘All the Things You Are.' But that chamber-music vibe is there, too. The school of Tristano, Marsh and Lee Konitz has its connections to the world of modernist chamber music, and we think it's important to underscore these connections."
Turner – whose tune "Lennie's Groove" on the Billy Hart Quartet's One Is the Other album was a nod to the influence of Tristano – adds: "The Warne Marsh aesthetic is part of both our worlds, and we wanted to include a jazz classic on the album, to underscore our connection to that aesthetic. I like ‘Dixie's Dilemma' for its dry-toned, laconic quality, a sound he shared with Tristano and Konitz. The appeal of the tune like that is based more on its content than drama, so the content has to be very strong, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically."