The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus really seemed to feel at home on the stage at BRICHouse, the brand new Fort Greene arts venue just steps away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Saturday, October 26, was BRIC’s first-ever sold-out concert in their intimate ballroom space, with unreserved seating in the balcony and standing room only on the ground floor. Many stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of the ever-impressive contemporary jazz trio—and for good reason. The music they create together constantly redefines the genre.
The trio, comprised of Dave King on drums, Reid Anderson on bass, and Ethan Iverson on piano, are masters of their respective instruments, as well as incredibly gifted composers. Though the group hails from Minneapolis, Iverson and Anderson now live in Brooklyn.
Having seen the Bad Plus perform a number of times, both in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York, I’m confident in saying they have never sounded better. The concert was exceptional. The band debuted a number of new, unreleased songs, most composed by Iverson and King; in fact, nearly all the tracks were recent, with the exception of Anderson’s “And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation,” from their 2004 album Give. The show was also unique in that their 10-song set did not include one of their signature cover songs. (Their cover of Aphex Twin’s “Flim” is my all-time favorite, with Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” coming in at a close second, since that was the song that first introduced me to the magic of the Bad Plus.)
They began the night with King’s composition “Wolf Out,” from the trio’s most recent album, Made Possible. Several new Iverson songs were featured, including “Self Serve,” “Mr. Now,” and “Inevitable Western.” All three of Iverson’s new songs further demonstrated his impressive and prolific composition skills. It was clear he was happy to debut them for the crowd; he often rose up from his piano bench as he played.
Anderson, standing center stage with his upright bass, was a natural emcee for the band. After “Inevitable Western” wrapped up, he quipped, “that’s a song by Ethan called ‘Inevitable Western,’ for obvious reasons.” All joking aside, “Inevitable Western” began with an impressive bass solo from Anderson and showcased some really imaginative drumming from King, including swapping out one of his drumsticks for a rope of bells. Anderson’s compositions from their 2010 album, Never Stop, were also highlighted, including the album’s title track and his epic “You Are.”
As the evening progressed, King debuted a new track called “Adopted Highway”—also the name of the debut album from his latest side project, the Dave King Trucking Company. As always, King was fascinating to watch. He got out brushes, mallets, a red toy ball, and some sort of noisemaker that looked like a hair dryer, creating different sound effects with his drums while Iverson plunked away on his piano. This led into another of King’s compositions called “Epistolary Echoes,” which began with King leading the audience to clap a simple rhythm as he started playing drums. By the middle of the song, the trio had traveled into rock ‘n’ roll territory, and the crowd shared their enthusiasm.
Before going into the set’s last song, Anderson started to wax rhapsodic about the “time of the year when melancholy sets in,” and then sang an improvised song about melancholy that turned into a proposal for the audience to buy merchandise: “There are CDs for sale in the lobby.” After the laughter died down, they launched into Anderson’s “Seven Minute Mind,” one of their latest album’s best tracks.
For an encore, they played Anderson’s “Pound for Pound,” also from the most recent album. This song was a contrast to the rest of the evening, as its tempo was decidedly slower and the volume quieter than the others—though by the conclusion the dynamics had changed considerably as the song went from a simple melody to stunning chords and the drummer hammered away at the crash cymbal. “Pound for Pound” really sums up the band’s incredible versatility. They go from silly to serious, quiet to loud, and back again, and we’ll be out here listening as long as they keep going—anyway they please.
ContributorJoanna McNaney Stein
JOANNA MCNANEY STEIN is an essayist, musician, and adjunct lecturer of English at Kingsborough Community College.