By the time the band finishes its current four-night stint, the Minnesota-based crew will have shared 56 different sets with their fans and supporters in our fair city, and we just can't get enough. This year's tour is packed with new material from the recent studio album "Made Possible," as well as classic favorites and legendary covers, all in the Bad Plus' unmatched avant-garde style.
Bassist Reid Anderson emceed the evening, seasoning the mood with barrage of wryly humorous, improvised anecdotes. Delivered with a friendly placidity that resembled the late Mr. Rogers, these stories and introductions stirred the audience (and his bandmates) into a slow-building chuckle each time he took the microphone. Most notably, they connected everyone in the room together into a single mood and mindset and seemed to mirror the design and even thought process of the music. It's not only the sounds that turn a concert into an experience and there are few that demonstrate that with more proficiency than Reid Anderson.
While the spoken excursions were more than enjoyable, this was a jazz show after all, so the gentlemen played a little music while they were there. Their sets often include a handful of covers, but this time they elected to go almost entirely original, largely from the new album, but also reaching as far back to their 2003 release "These Are the Vistas" for the finale. Dave King started the evening on the drum set with a fast and fierce introduction to "Cheney Piñata," but the song soon settled as Ethan Iverson joined with a cheerful, major-key part on the piano and Anderson evened out the rhythm on bass.
The early songs served as an introduction to their style and individual talents, just in case there were any first time attendees. Anderson may take the spotlight with a microphone in his hand, but while standing next to a bass, his style is far more about finesse and wisdom. With their regular voyages into the world of experimental sound and rhythm, his bass lines offer a backbone of stability for the band and audience alike. Often, it's one beautifully selected note that diverges from the expected, but Anderson seems to know exactly what needs to be done and precisely when, and then even more precisely disregard that thought entirely for just that moment.
Ethan Iverson's parts offer a similar touch. While many would expect the piano to be at the forefront of a trio with a bass and drum set, like Anderson, he proves to be quite cunning at balancing an established and relatively predictable groove with intense deviations and a peppering of piercing chords. His play was very peaceful and even resembled a ballad at times, while at other times, his fingers would scurry up and down the octaves in a flurry of bebop like riffs, even pulling him off the bench to crouch at the high end of the house piano. Regardless of his moments of intensity, his expression remains serene throughout the performance as if exhaling the music slowly after a deep breath.
However, anyone that's seen a single performance of this trio knows that Dave King personifies the band's sound above the others. Virtually a source of perpetual energy, the drummer plays as if every performance is a joyful out-of-body experience. King not only pulls from a bottomless pit rhythms and variations but expertly expands a simple drum kit's sound with some truly creative methods. Often mid-song, he would constantly switch between brushes, mallets and both ends of the drum sticks, as well as striking a variety of points on the rims and sides of the drums and cymbals.
During "Sing for a Silver Dollar," the entire trio experimented with various sounds as Iverson played the inside of the piano and Anderson brushed his palm up and down the strings of his bass. However, it's King's ingenuity that is without comparison as he forcefully scraped the blunt end of his drumsticks across his muted cymbals and even brought out a number of children's toys. Most notably was the guest appearance of two E.T. walkie-talkies that used variations of feedback in conjunction with the acoustics of the floor tom to create the desired sound.
Perhaps it was at this moment that the musicians best defined who they are. They are the unparalleled, the avant-garde and the masterfully wise; they are the Bad Plus.
All photos by Wil Wander.