Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Bad Plus, Good Tidings

© Andrea Canter

For the past ten, or maybe eleven, holiday seasons, The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King) have gathered with family, friends, and fans at the Dakota Jazz Club for what is now a three-night gig celebrating one of the most enduring collaborations among modern jazz ensembles. Reid and Dave grew up in the Twin Cities, playing with such now-acclaimed talents as Craig Taborn, Mike Lewis and Adam Linz. Ethan was just a short drive away in Menonomie, and I have always wondered who he found to push him along his artistic journey before meeting up with Reid and Dave in the late 90s. Unlike Reid and Dave, Ethan was not immersed in the rock culture that engaged other teens of the time, but he made up for it as he joined forces with the bassist and drummer to reinvent pop hits by Blondie, the Pixies, Black Sabbath, Wilco, Aphex Twin and more. And classical works proved fair game as well, with interpretations of Ligeti and Stravinsky turning up on their 2009 release, For All I Care. Personally I have always preferred their original compositions, which now form a deep vault and the entirety of their 10th anniversary effort, Never Stop.

The Dakota edition of Bad Plus 2010 was highly saturated with the guys’ original works, and the performance was relatively mellow without losing any of the trio’s trademark edge, humor and elements of surprise. King was as propulsive as ever without blasting the heck out of his kit. Anderson still plays a lyrical foil but with plenty of assertive solos. And Iverson’s lines and harmonies have evolved in complexity over the decade without losing their basic engaging quirkiness. Over the two sets I attended, there were of course compositions from the new release, but also some old favorites as well as new unrecorded works, along with a few covers of Ornette Coleman, Rogers & Hart (a surprising encore “Have You Met Miss Jones?”) and one of my all-time Bad Plus favorites, Aphex Twin (“Flim”).

If TBP seem more mellow these days, it's not because the music is any less exciting or more predictable today than ten years ago. But in 2010, the music is less startling to jazz (and other) audiences. And the guys seem to be taking on a wider swath of influences of modern music, be it interpretations and reinventions or sounds from within. And they’ve stayed on the acoustic pathway, proving loops and overdubs and computer wizardry are not essential to 21st century music. Maybe that is the biggest surprise of all.

Photos: (top to bottom) Ethan Iverson; Reid Anderson; Dave King; The Bad Plus (all photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota, December 25-27, 2010)