The Bad Plus (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk, Bender Mellon
It had been three years since I’d seen the Bad Plus, and the previous circumstances were not conducive to a satisfying listening experience: They were in the middle of the Main Stage bill at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, and SPAC’s amphitheater eats piano trios like I eat Brown Bag burgers – quickly, completely and with gusto. The fact is, TBP needs a small space and a dedicated audience to do that insane voodoo they’ve been doing for over a decade. In The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, they had both.
Most bands go for your throat right from the jump in concert, regardless of their genre. Maybe TBP chose bassist Reid Anderson’s slow, somber “Pound for Pound” as an opener because they knew the evening would get weird and wild later on, and they wanted to pace both themselves and the almost-full house. Either way, Dave King’s drumbeat was both martial and funereal as Ethan Iverson’s piano chords stayed sparse as he helped his partners build the foundation. Only the piece’s off-time meter separated this tune from any other memorial.
The mournful tone sort of remained the same, but bit-by-bit, the piece got wider and more colorful as all three players started adding more ingredients one by one – a riff here, a trill there. Iverson finally started a solo (of a kind), which King automatically countered. In normal jazz terms, that usually means both players were going off the hook… but then again, the Bad Plus are not a normal jazz outfit. Iverson’s always been a site-specific noisemaker, and “Pound” didn’t call for any major pyrotechnics. And while King’s pom-pommed white wool hat and grey slackerwear helped make him look like the madman drummer we all know and love, he wasn’t ready to blow up real good just yet. The piece never lost its unpredictability, but compared with what was to come, “Pound” was a pretty soft opener.