Newport Jazz Fest Countdown: The Bad Plus Performs Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction

I remember the goose pimples I got when The Bad Plus eased into “Rock the Clock” a couple years ago at an NYU auditorium. It’s not their song – it’s an Ornette Coleman deep cut. But the daredevil trio, along with its three-piece horn section, managed to put a personal imprint on it as they clattered their way through its fuzzy joie de vivre. The update was a part of a repertory gambit that found the band that has famously covered Blondie, Roger Miller, Stravinsky, Yes, and ABBA, recounting the entirety of the alto saxophonist’s Science Fiction, an album both revered and undervalued by the jazz public. They did a great job. The horns (Tim Berne, Sam Newsome, Ron Miles) echoed the gnarled fluency of Coleman’s original ensemble, and the trio (Dave King, Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson) infused tunes such as “Happy House” and “Broken Shadows” (the latter is part of their upcoming album, It’s Hard) with the kind of eruptive coordination that made the stage a hotbed of activity. When they were pensive, there was always a pulse. When they exploded, poise was part of  their rumble. Ornette participated in a renegade festival that countered the Newport norm in 1960. This year his music is front and center at Fort Adams, interpreted by a squad of vets who hear its drama and engagement. The Bad Plus’ Saturday spin through Science Fiction should prompt several convos about Ornette’s impact on current day modernists essaying historical nuggets: Me? I want to hear Dan Tepfer’s trio roll through the entirety of John Scofield’s Bar Talk.

Newport Jazz Fest 2016

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