The Bad Plus: Exit Music for a Pianist

I believe the first time I saw The Bad Plus was in the Knit’s Old Office, and the one image I recall is Ethan Iverson, during a moody romp through “Heart of Gold,” taking Neil Young’s lyrics at their functional best, and repeating the “keeps me searchin'” phrase on the piano enough times to underscore one of the trio’s aesthetic mandates: press on until a new way of shaping the music has been achieved. I’m recalling (hazy, hazy) that the trio hummed the tune and sang a snatch of lyric, and in a theatrical move that echoed Han Bennink’s occasional stage hijinks, Iverson visually investigated his instrument’s innards, pedals, and the floor area surrounding him – on the hunt for some ineffable essence, no doubt. Grins abounded in the audience because the music was as incisive as the group’s frolic was wry. Only one possible takeaway: This is gonna be a fun band.

They have been. And they are. But now Iverson’s leaving and Orrin Evans is stepping in. That’s gonna be fun, too. But as TBP closes 2017 at the Vanguard this week, I thought I would gather all the Voice blabs I wrote about their NYC gigs (along with a couple record reviews and EI trio hits) as a salute. Bet they tear the place up. Kisses to Ethan. Go get ’em, Orrin.

The Bad Plus
The trio did mucho damage at the Blue Note back in the fall, Dave King’s drums causing landslides, Reid Anderson’s tunes erecting labyrinths, Ethan Iverson’s piano precision boggling minds. Their pop tune fetish can be cutesy or cool – it depends on the tune chosen and the vibe conjured. I’ll take more Bee Gees, less Rush, and pray they hit overdrive on “Layin’ a Strip for the Higher-Self State Line.”

Village Vanguard. Wednesday, 24 – Sunday, 28.

 

The Bad Plus + Craig Taborn

The Bad boys court controversy because they mess with the jazz norm. Not just in choice of pop repertoire, which stretches from “Heart of Glass” to “Heart of Gold,” but by ramrodding rock rhythms into a piano trio improv process that swings even when it doesn’t. Their new Give has a noir side. Taborn is one of the local jazz scene’s best-prepared keyb experimentalists.

Bowery Ballroom. Thursday, 25.

 

The Bad Plus

Yup, their imploding-pop-tunes shtick is always front and center. But their knowing group interplay is always right there with it, and after three years of steady work, that shit is deep. If the stars align, they will mow you down.
Iridium, 1650 Bway, 212-582-2121.  Wed & Thu 8 & 10pm, $27.50.

 

The Bad Plus   Give   (Columbia)

As the mildly infamous trio (are they too rock for jazz?, too entertaining for seriousness?) drastically deconstructs its pop standards (Pixies, Sabbath, Nirvana) they create a fetching blend of uncertainty and anticipation. How much ballyhoo can a bossa nova take? How roughshod can you ride over a rumba? Their bombast is built around nuance, however. When splashmeister David King unloads his thud arsenal on “Cheney Piñata” (take that you fucking warmonger!) you truly wonder where the piece might end up. Eradicating foregone conclusions deserves all the credit the world.

 

The Bad Plus
When its not finding the fantasias in Tears For Fears tunes or using Ahmad Jamal’s vocab on grooves inspired by ELP (not ELO), the rowdy piano trio’s new *Prog* demonstrates just how physical and broad the language of swing can be. Recent outings have found the scripted flourishes to be as vivid as ever, whether its Bowie or Rush on the chopping block.

Highline Ballroom. Saturday, 30.

 

Ethan Iverson

He plays differently outside The Bad Plus – there’s more air to the solos. It’s as if the pianist has extra time to follow his muse down a path and through the brambles to see if treasure awaits. Given his canny sense of abstraction, it often does. Especially when the team consists of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard – dudes who can make the brambles seem bewitching.

Smalls. Monday, March 31

 

Recalibrating the dimension of pop and classical tunes, these wonderfully inventive wiseacres (the wittiest piano trio in jazz?) offer new perspective after new perspective. On the forthcoming *For All I Care*, they add singer Wendy Lewis to upend everything from Bee Gees to Roger Miller. And if you can make Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround” as plaintive as something from Laura Nyro’s *New York City Tenderberry,* you’re doing god’s work. No vocals this week. Just ultra-tight improvisations that bow to architecture and have a mild pomp fetish.

9 pm & 11 pm.  $30. 178 Village Vanguard, 7th Avenue South.  212-255-4037  MACNIE

 

The Bad Plus 1 featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel

The scalawag trio has a unique chemistry – it will be fun to see what happens when they have guests over. It should be fine because the guitarist is more confrere than interloper. They’re all members of the same general generation, and there’s been intermittent interminglings between Iverson, Anderson and Rosenwinkel in the past. Meaning they’re on the same page…unless they decide to jump off.

New York Society for Ethical Culture. Tuesday, 24

 

Their pomp is on purpose and it sates an interest in ceremony – they may be playing in a club, but they’re concert performers with a yen for the oversized, like Mingus and Keith Moon and Rachmaninoff. They’re also addicted to wit and subtlety, so storms like Ornette’s “Song X” are all about dimension. Architecture, too: regardless of their commitment to rule-bending, pianist Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King would have it no other way. PS: steady work makes them ridiculously tight.

9 pm & 11 pm.  $30. 178 Village Vanguard, 7th Avenue South.  212-255-4037  MACNIE

 

Ethan Iverson Trio

The Bad Plus pianist spends a good chunk of time rethinking the norm when he puts his brainy skew on standards and show tunes. That means bop can have a pensive side, and romance can sound ornery. Last time I caught him, he threw curve after curve, and each was over the plate.

Smalls. Wednesday, 7 – Thursday, 8

 

The Bad Plus + James Carter + Charlie Hunter:

The Bad boys bully jazz until it shows its rock side. That means a splash ‘n’ thud drummer and a cover of “We Are the Champions.” Hunter’s Trio splits the diff between unk-fay and oove-gray. Carter’s Organ Trio positions its blast-furnace sax boss in the center of some hard-hitting swing. Prepare to get physical.

Friday, June 17. Prospect Park Bandshell.

 

The Bad Plus    (DownBeat Hot Box blurb)

I’ll take the Bee Gees over “Barracuda,” and Babbit over Yes, but for the most part they once again connect the dots in zig-zag maneuver that could implode at any moment, but doesn’t. Give or take a dreary moment, it’s a strong statement about the esthetic they’ve honed and the experimentalism they cherish. THREE AND A HALF STARS

 

The Bad Plus; Gold Sounds

Two chops-heavy jazz outfits that love messing with rock. Pomp and pummel informs the piano trio, one of the wittiest bands to come along in years. Don’t believe the haters who say its shtick only. James Carter and Cyrus Chestnut’s hook-up on the Pavement songbook also gives them some wiggle room between hooks and skronk.

Irving Plaza. June 21

 

Recalibrating the dimension of pop and classical tunes, these wonderfully inventive wiseacres (the wittiest piano trio in jazz?) offer new perspective after new perspective. On the forthcoming *For All I Care*, they add singer Wendy Lewis to upend everything from Bee Gees to Roger Miller. And if you can make Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround” as plaintive as something from Laura Nyro’s *New York City Tenderberry,* you’re doing god’s work. No vocals this week. Just ultra-tight improvisations that bow to architecture and have a mild pomp fetish.

9 pm & 11 pm.  $30. 178 Village Vanguard, 7th Avenue South.  212-255-4037  MACNIE

 

 

Ethan Iverson

He plays differently outside The Bad Plus – there’s more air to the solos. It’s as if the pianist has extra time to follow his muse down a path and through the brambles to see if treasure awaits. Given his canny sense of abstraction, it often does. Especially when the team consists of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard – dudes who can make the brambles seem bewitching.

Smalls. Monday, March 31

 

The Bad Plus

Look beyond the bombast stereotype by spending time with “Giant” from last year’s somewhat schizy *Prog*. The trio’s pulse valentine is also a closing credits theme just waiting to find a flick. Nuance has been part of their game plan since day one, and though they roar like hell, there’s lots of subtlety flying by, too.

Blue Note.  Wednesday, 19 – Sunday, 23

 

The Bad Plus

Back in the early fall, the Bad boys did mucho damage at the Blue Note, Dave King’s drums causing landslides, Reid Anderson’s tunes erecting labyrinths, Ethan Iverson’s piano precision boggling minds. The shtick of their pop tune fetish can be cutesy or cool – it depends on the tune chosen and the vibe conjured. I’ll take more Bee Gees, less Rush, and pray they hit overdrive on “Layin’ a Strip for the Higher-Self State Line.”

Village Vanguard. Wednesday, 24 – Sunday, 28.

 

The Bad Plus
Give
Columbia 90771
Those vistas The Bad Plus referenced in the title of their previous album – you know, the major label debut whose rad approach to repertory earned the New York trio a pant-load of press – are becoming broader. Working a concept that’s centered on the act of questioning, Give muscles its way through an array of tunes that trade whimsy for drama. In the middle of Ornette’s swirling “Street Woman,” they hit the brakes to ruminate in the lower register. Making a molehill into a mountain on the Pixies’ “Velouria,” they create a thickly-stitched piece that’s the aural equivalent of a drawing room curtain. Maybe this is their noir record. If so, the dark side suits ‘em. To paraphrase Bon Jovi, they give gloom a good name.

 

It didn’t dawn on me until I spent time with the new *Never Stop*, but their famed flourishes can sometimes be heard as tsunamis of catharsis. There’s an emo aspect to the originals that populate the disc, with Ethan Iverson’s piano pining at various points, and Dave King’s drums fueling anthemic expressionism. It’s even in the ballads: can’t recall them ever offering more pathos than they do on “Snowball.” This big stage might bolster such oversized notions. Saxophonist Same Newsome opens.

$25. 9 pm. Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street.   212-533-2111 MACNIE

https://lamentforastraightline.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/top-five-ideas-gleaned-from-last-nights-bad-plus-gig/

 

The Bad Plus, Village Vanguard  12/31 – 1/6

Jazz fans rarely think of The Bad Plus as traditionalists, but the most celebrated and scrutinized piano trio of the last decade certainly seems to be the go-to crew for ringing in the new year at the Village Vanguard. Revelers who want to kiss the old anum goodbye with a dab of poignancy while splashing into the great unknown have found that a visit to the revered jazz cellar is a must when the band is holding forth. It remains remarkable that drummer Dave King, bassist Reid Anderson, and pianist Ethan Iverson can straddle that line of sensitivity and ferociousness, but “Pound For Pound,” from this year’s *Made Possible* is both steely AND bittersweet. Their approach nudges everything towards the majestic, so expect even a momentary “Auld Lang Syne” to boast an epic vibe. And don’t forget to go back and check ‘em on a normal old Thursday night.

 

The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard

There’s always been a dollop of ceremony in the esteemed trio’s rerouted pop tunes and noble-nasty originals, so when they spend New Year’s Eve at our most venerable jazz club, there’s some version of extraordinary in the air. Plus, they’re smitten with surprise, and it’s always nice to feel that anything can happen on the cusp of a new 3-6-5. Ring in 2014 examining possibilities…

Weds 17 – Sunday 21   The Bad Plus  @ Vanguard

 

After all these years it kinda comes down to volition. One of the reasons the mainstream press deems the King-Reid-Iverson triumvirate a “power trio” is because of the bedrock oomph that guides their well-designed maneuvers. The pianist’s poignant gusto, the drummer’s natural swag, and the bassist’s stately projection – each is crucial to the chemistry at the heart of their authoritative implosions. No wonder their most gripping sets feel like some sort of theatre.

8:30 pm + 10:30 pm.  $30. 178 Village Vanguard, 7th Avenue South.  212-255-4037  MACNIE

 

The trio is known for messing with jewels like “Heart of Glass” and “Iron Man” but their new disc is dedicated to a different kind of classic – “The Rite Of Spring.” Genuflecting to Strav’s wise audacity while claiming it as part of an increasingly catholic jazz canon, they refract its grandeur and reveal its swing. Which come to think of it, was their M.O. with Blondie and Sabbath, too. Given their seismic sense of interplay and drummer Dave Kings’ charisma, it’s a good bet they’re going to tear the place apart.

7:30 pm & 9:30 pm $20. Jazz Standard. 116 East 27 Street. 212-576-2232. MACNIE

 

*Inevitable Western* picks up where *Made Possible* left off – sober tunes (especially Reid Anderson’s) played with a charismatic frenzy. Don’t let the title have you looking for a pastoral prairie vibe – their stuff may be cinematic these days, but it’s still a bit crazed. THREE AND A HALF STARS

 

The Bad Plus Rocks The Clock

It hasn’t been all Blondie, Sabbath and Nirvana. Because they dig sophisticated blends of eloquent jitter-swing and stormy rumination, The Bad Plus – the rogue piano/bass/drums outfit initially heralded for exploding pop and rock nuggets – has occasionally peppered its sets with Ornette Coleman tunes. “Song X” here, “Law Years” there – every time I’ve heard them launch into the master’s book, the almost giddy joy that’s defines his music has amped the trio’s action. Now TBP is adding horns and turning to the entirety of Coleman’s 1972 opus, Science Fiction. Saxophonists Tim Berne (who rampaged through OC’s world with John Zorn in ‘89) and Sam Newsome connect with trumpeter Ron Miles in a front line that will magnify the frolic of anthems like “Happy House” and “School Work” while the trio keeps the grooves at a steady boil. They’ve said Ornette’s music is part of their DNA. Can’t wait to see the family resemblance.

Oct 23, 7:30 pm NYU Skirball Center for the Arts

http://nyuskirball.org/calendar/badplus

 

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman

Nonesuch

Part of the attraction of following the Bad Plus is watching them shift gears. The provocative trio began about 15 years ago blending rock nuggets into their book of rigorous originals. Then they focused on said originals, which became more idiosyncratic, refined and alluring. Then they invited vocalist Wendy Lewis to put an art song spin on nuggets penned by Heart, Roger Miller and Yes.  Then they polished those compositional skills a bit more, honing sideways strategies regarding time signatures and melodies. Then they broadened their initial repertory gambit, parachuting into Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and giving a big smooch to their favorite Ornette Coleman album, Science Fiction. Now, for *The Bad Plus Joshua Redman,* they’ve become a momentary quartet, making a kaleidoscopic record with one of jazz’s most celebrated saxophonists. It’s a transition that’s as refreshing (and revealing) as each of the above, furthering the breadth to their bedrock POV. And it’s a knockout album.

Redman first connected with bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and pianist Ethan Iverson in 2011; the camaraderie found on this new album has developed during intermittent live shows. Rapport is paramount for anyone playing tunes this elaborate. Making what Iverson has called “odd-meters” glide with a steady flow ain’t easy. One of the Bad Plus’ ongoing victories is having rigorous pieces play naturally. From “Beauty Has It Hard” to “Friend Or Foe,” Redman negotiates these cagey themes with the kind of power a method actor draws upon. They’re sometimes fitful – the trio’s ploys of playing tear-ass through zig-zag labyrinths are famous to devotees – but his horn eases its way through the twists and turns like the performance couldn’t exist without it.

Grandeur has become part of the band’s personality during the last several years, and while I sometimes thing its execution is too florid by half, their musicianship usually wins me over. Redman helps in that realm, too. The exhilarating arc of “Silence Is the Question” might be deemed bombastic if his cri de coeur weren’t so deeply mournful. As the group calibrates the ballad’s explosions, King and Iverson unite to squeeze every drop of emotion from the fanfare.

 Perhaps most convincing of all is “County Seat,’ a dizzy bounce with jazz-ma-tazz feel that harks to their early classic, “Layin’ A Strip For The Higher-Self State Line.” Giddy and joyous, it conjures a Dexter Gordon meeting Raymond Scott vibe – a fetching impossibility.

 

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman

Nonesuch 548920

FOUR STARS

You don’t think of The Bad Plus as a band that needs any help. Since the trio ignited itself a decade and a half ago, it’s been rich with intrepid ideas and the skills to fulfill them. But fellow travelers have been intermittently welcomed. Guitarist Bill Frisell was invited to celebrate Paul Motian’s music, and vocalist Wendy Lewis joined to put an art-song spin on classic rock nuggets – adding a complimentary voice to the mix can revitalize longstanding formulas. So the bridge-building Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King effect with Joshua Redman on this latest album has precedent. What makes it unusual is its depth; mining a connection that seems intuitive to both sides, it’s as if the saxophonist was a blood brother.

Integration is everything here. The Bad Plus is famous for throwing curve balls into their pieces. Contoured rhythmic wobble, feints towards melodic disintegration, grandiosity that may or may not arrive with a grin – each has been an occasional part of their design schema. As often as not, their deployment is part of a measured approach that stresses calculation over not abandonment. Josh’s horn, though naturally expressionistic, navigates such waters masterfully. Together, on bubbly ballads like “Beauty Has It Hard” and bristling ruminations like “The Mending,” the group alignment is spot-on. When I caught them on stage at the start of a summer tour, the coordination was even more expert, with all four members honing their moves to support the music’s architecture while still finding room to be playful – two discrete lingos making hay by keeping things wound tight.

That said, the foursome knows when to let off steam. From the giddy romp of “County Seat” to the dizzy swirl “Faith Through Error” they’ve not abandoned hubbub. The ardor that forms so much of jazz’s temperament is coursing through these tracks, even if it’s meted out, and by the time the epic “Silence Is The Question” drifts away, you’ll know charisma is a big part of *TBPJR*’s equation as well.

 

3. THE BAD PLUS JOSHUA REDMAN “The Bad Plus Joshua Redman”

No walking-bass swing, no Afro-Latin groove, no blues. So what else is new? Jazz’s foremost unclassifiable, prog-damaged piano trio combined forces with one of its most charismatic saxophone soloists, exploring the trio’s gleaming, knotty structures, informed by Redman’s searing introspection, the occasional pop hook — even an affecting ballad with brushes.

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 esteemed trio, along with its three-piece horn section, managed to put a personal imprint on it as they clattered their way through its nu-bopjoie 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 album, an album both revered and undervalues by the jazz public. They did a great job. The horns (Tim Berne, Sam Newsome, Ron Miles) echoing the gnarled fluency of Coleman’s original ensemble, and the trio (Dave King, Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson) infusing tunes such as “Happy House” and “Broken Shadows” 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 erupted, poise paralleled their every step. Ornette was part of a renegade festival that countered the Newport norm in 1960. Now his music front and center at Fort Adams, interpreted by a squad of vets who hear its drama and engagement. Their spin through Science Fiction should start a discourse about Ornette’s impact and value of current day modernists essaying historical nuggets.

 

The Bad Plus – It’s Hard From “I Walk the Line” to “The Robots,” there’s a music box vibe to a few of these covers, and it’s fetching.  But mix-wise, I wish King’s drums had a bit more punch. God knows he kicks mucho azz. THREE STARS  DownBeat Hot Box

 

Exit Music (For A Pianist)

Tick-tick-tick…the clock is winding down for fans of The Bad Plus – or more specifically, fans of wily jazz trio’s original line-up. The band, which earned plenty of critical kudos through its inventive updates of pop tunes such as “Heart of Glass” and “Iron Man,” has announced that founding member Ethan Iverson is splitting. The pianist’s resourceful lines were crucial to defining TBP’s oft dramatic, occasionally explosive sound, so a sea change is pending as Orrin Evans, another superb improviser, waits to take over the piano chair at the start of 2018. The group (with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King) has only two NYC runs slated before they end this year with a Village Vanguard bash, so if you’re an Iverson zealot (and there are many), one of this week’s Jazz Standard shows are on your must-see list. Special request: “Cheney Piñata.”

Village Vanguard

 

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