A New Festival Freely Dips Into Jazz and Classical Music

This is no less referential than another charming classical piece of Iverson’s, “Concerto to Scale,” which he premiered with the American Composers Orchestra in 2018. But to its credit, the sonata is less jokey — and thus more secure — when dealing with its layered source materials. To my ear, that makes it a new advance in his engagement with fully notated writing.

Playing the sonata last week, both times, Iverson dived right into his own crunchy, chromatic figures with a ferocity that was absent in video from the New England Conservatory premiere, in which he was “a little bit nervous,” he said.

But at Soapbox, “I was certainly warmed up,” he said, having played the Talma piece before his sonata. Always, though, he has been confident in the work, which he has tinkered with and recorded for his next release on the Blue Note label, scheduled for 2024.

In terms of the sonata’s spirit, he said: “I do think when people who don’t swim in the world every day hand in formal composition, they often are too serious. I’d actually rather be rambunctious.”

“I feel James P. with me,” he added. “I feel Erroll Garner with me. And I feel Ralph Shapey.”

The language Iverson uses when discussing his upcoming compositional premieres — including more sonatas, as well as orchestral arrangements of Ellington — enjoys a reprise whenever he discusses the balance of the Sono Fest! programming. In both cases, he is looking for new paths. And for Iverson, all routes move within what he calls “this very American phenomenon.”

Before hopping back onstage for his second set last week, he observed: “It’s not happening in Germany or England. There’s still something I like so much about all of this: these are American composers I’m playing. Scott Joplin is part of it. And Henry Mancini is part of it. There’s a whole thing, there, that’s our language. If you really love it all, there’s incredible room still, to find a way.”

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