The Bad Plus


January 29, 2005

Drummer David King took one solo, but it certainly wasn't under the auspices of the usual jazz live formula: introduce melody, take solos, re-introduce melody and then quit. King, pianist Ethan Iverson and stand-up bassist Reid Anderson--a.k.a. The Bad Plus--didn't stick to too many formulas besides their own. Iverson and Reid created diverse, stabbing rhythms that flowed where King could follow, which was anywhere and everywhere.

The Bad Plus was a jazz trio from New York City. Even though the members had played together in different bands during the '90's--including free jazz improvs at their Midwestern high schools--they didn't form The Bad Plus until 2001. A gig at The Village Vanguard landed them a record deal with Columbia, and they released "These Are The Vistas" in 2003. There was immediate "they're bridging the gap between jazz and rock" hubbub surrounding the album, which included covers by Nirvana and Blondie. In true jazz fashion The Bad Plus quickly put out their second album, "Give," in 2004. They will release a live album this Spring.

"Big Eater," a song off their first album that sounded like a giant plodding through the woods, was a perfect example of the band's complicated approach at Twiropa Saturday night. Iverson changed the melody every thirty seconds. One melody was always a derivative of the other, so it was just a matter of what strange meter Iverson wanted it to be in. He hid the melody in a right-handed flourish, but most of the time it was a left-handed carbon chord copy of the bass line. These cyclical note-for-note combinations were trance-inducing, but they also provided the band's umph and anchor while King flew around the drumset. He kept his own space alien time. His choice of beautiful, yet seemingly unconnected fills made me think he was making it hard on himself.

Between the agressive thumping(which is probably why people make the rock connection), sections of the song were devoted to mellow, water-soothing piano chords. Iverson's authentic baby Grand ivories gave the songs an orchestral dignity and triggered a sense memory that led me back to innocent childhood days when I fooled with piano keys for the first time. Each key pulled on a heartstring in a different way. So it was with Iverson. Synthesizers don't compare.

Reid sped up the pace to keep up with the other two, but he normally dealt out fat, funky lines that could have come from a hip-hop backing track. King was a constant highlight. In Iverson's words, "He keeps me on my toes." With ease, King switched from swinging a beat on the ride cymbal to rocking it straight on the hi-hat. The change sounded natural.

The band played a great sideways version of "We Are The Champions" until the sing-along at the end, when Iverson straightened the song out for complete enjoyment's sake. The Bad Plus also played Bjork's "Human Behaviour" and Aphex Twin's "Flim" with much re-arranged care.

Iverson was the band's spokesperson, and he spoke between every song, offering up explanations or jokes that didn't fly. Twiropa got a large amount of people into their big room for this concert. The Bad Plus don't tour the South much, so I met some people from Lafayette and Austin who had driven down just for the band. Needless to say, the crowd was really into them.

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