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What's so good about The Bad Plus?
I've been lucky enough to see The Bad Plus perform live a couple of times, and I have this to say: when a band is truly operating as a unit, it's as if the music is being made by some magical force. The musicians don't seem to be communicating; there are no obvious visual or aural cues being passed back and forth. Everything just kind of...happens. The Bad Plus is such a unit.
I first heard The Bad Plus on the radio. It's possible that is was their version of the Tears for Fears classic "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." I was immediately intrigued by two things: first, here was a jazz trio doing a cover of a tune I grew up with. Second, I felt like there was something slightly off kilter about it - in a playful, musical way.
I think this double-whammy - familiar tunes and a unique performance style - is what first brought The Bad Plus to the attention of jazz fans around the world. But they're so much more than pop covers. They've been playing together for more than ten years, so when pianist Ethan Iverson decides to depart from the melody, or drummer Dave King decides to depart from the time signature, or bassist Reid Anderson decides to depart from the harmony, the other musicians easily take it in stride, sometimes playing along, and sometimes playing it straight...and always creating sparks on the bandstand.
But - as someone once said - "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." Here's a track:
The tune may not be familiar - in fact, their most recent album is their first exclusively featuring the band's original compositions - but the groove certainly is. In some ways, when I listen to a track like this, it doesn't necessarily matter if I always recognize the tune, or understand exactly what the individual musicians are doing. The music gets my head bopping, keeps me on my toes, and always surprises me. It means that their shows are always a bit unpredictable, and always fun. In case more proof is required:
Here the trio combines unison passages (Ethan's left hand playing the bass line with Reid, for example) with total freedom (Dave's powerhouse drumming) and to me, the end-result is some of the most exciting music being made in jazz today.
The Bad Plus performs on the mainstage at Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday, June 24. Joining the trio is the outstanding tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman (speaking of exciting!); Hiromi's Trio Project kicks off the double bill at 8 pm. For complete details, visit the concert page.
Finally, here's a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the 2010 release Never Stop. It might give you a better sense of the personalities of the musicians and their creative process as a band.
P.S. - Ethan Iverson, in addition to being an outstanding pianist, is an interesting and acclaimed blogger. Check out his blog Do The Math.