The Bad Plus :: 12.01.04 :: The Wardrobe :: Leeds, UK

Ethan Iverson by Yves Beauvais
The Bad Plus have been lauded as the loudest piano trio currently invading the UK touring circuit. With rock infused originals housed within a jazz realm and a clever mix of electronic, classic rock and grunge adaptations, The Bad Plus have been described as off-the-wall, unpredictable, unpretentious and sonically engaging. In addition to the critical acclaim, Columbia has released two impressive LPs that pinpoint the band's approach to giving jazz a good stylistic ass-kicking. Lucky for me, their ten-date island tour included Leeds.

The Wardrobe is Leeds' upscale jazz basement. It is the venue that historically and consistently provides the best traditional and progressive jazz in the city. Located directly across from BBC's Yorkshire headquarters and the nationally recognized Leeds College of Music, The Wardrobe is the drinking hole for the educated, adventurous and artistically involved. The perfect venue for a band that embodies the same artistic and socially progressive attitude.

Taking the stage after 9:00 p.m. to a sold out but mellow sit-down crowd, The Bad Plus immediately embarked upon ninety minutes of rocking out with extremely complex, yet meticulously rehearsed jazz. Showcasing new material from their latest major label release, Give, as well as older tunes and some unique covers like The Pixies' "Velouria" and Queen's "We Are The Champions," the band confidently glided through tune after tune of complicated, polyrhythmic headbanger's jazz. Using a stripped down, acoustic piano (Ethan Iverson) led set-up including, upright bass (Reid Anderson) and trap set drum kit (David King), the combo electrified the crowd, pulling off jaw-dropping melodic changes and modal switches on a tee, seemingly limiting the improvisation in favour of tightly composed, extremely well played jazzy fusion.

David King by Yves Beauvais
While each player exemplified his sheer virtuosity at each respective instrument, it was King who raised the bar and brought jazz drumming to new levels throughout the show. Playing almost on top of the drum set, King's flawless accenting dotted each composition, creating almost indescribable rhythms that cleverly layered brilliance underneath Anderson and Ethan's polytonal melodies. A cross between Jeff 'Tain' Watts and a Keith Moon like animal on Ritalin, King ferociously attacked his drum set during every tune, creating a whirlwind of controlled chaos that carried the band throughout the ninety minute set. Yet, no matter how closely their sound reflected free jazz, or how far off track they traveled, it seemed to always be a clever facade, attempting to mask the fact that each tune, at its core, was meticulously and laboriously rehearsed.

That musical preparedness was the only downfall for The Bad Plus. Despite the band displaying uncanny, consistent virtuosity, there was almost no improvisation and exploration, as every chart appeared worked out and properly mapped and aligned before lift-off. It came off almost too tight, too composed and too organized. The tempo and melodic changes felt mechanical and heavily rehearsed, keeping the improvisational nature of free jazz to a minimum despite how free the music appeared to be. It was like The Bad Plus approached technical jazz from a classic rock perspective, one that aims to pull off the spontaneous magic by practicing till it hurts. Still, rarely have I seen a jazz band play with such furiousness and vigor as The Bad Plus exemplified at the Wardrobe. I guess you can never be too good at your instrument.

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | United Kingdom
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[Published on: 12/7/04]

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