The Bad Plus | 01.08 | St. Louis

Words by: Patrick Shamel

The Bad Plus :: 01.08.10 :: Jazz at the Bistro :: St. Louis, MO

The Bad Plus :: 01.08 by John Barnes
Amidst pianist Ethan Iverson‘s dry humor in addressing the crowd between songs and drummer Dave King‘s various children’s musical instruments utilized for fills and perhaps intentional hilarity, what really stands out about The Bad Plus is their virtuosity and sharp improvisation in a live setting.

For the fourth consecutive year, the jazz trio brought their mix of original songs and eclectic take on deconstructed covers to Jazz at the Bistro for another four-night run of shows. It obviously takes a lot of material to play eight sets without repeating any songs, so it was not surprising that probably 80-percent of the setlist was repeated on a nightly basis. However, The Bad Plus’ improvisation kept these repeated songs new and fresh for those who caught more than one show on this St. Louis stint.

The trio opened the first set of Friday’s show with their take on the jazz standard “Have You Met Miss Jones?” The upbeat lounge vibe of this song is atypical of what The Bad Plus usually play, so it was rather interesting to hear their interpretation of this famous swing composition. Reid Anderson carried the melody with a walking bass line on the upright for the majority of the song. True to form, they ended the song intertwining the tempo of their original “Physical Cities” and repeating the same note over and over.

Dave King – The Bad Plus :: 01.08 by Pete Vander Pluym
The highlight of the first set didn’t come until nearly halfway through when they went into “My Friend Metatron,” a King composition. King’s slow drumming was nicely complemented by Anderson’s nasty bass work. It was an interesting juxtaposition between the dark verses and a joyous chorus, at times showing their prog influences. It almost sounded like they were channeling Rush at one point, paying homage to the classic rock band (they covered “Tom Sawyer” on their 2007 album, appropriately titled Prog).

The second set began with “Prehensile Dream,” the first track off their 2005 album Suspicious Activity? This track was a perfect selection for a set opener and displayed the band’s expertise in dynamics. Iverson started off the song slowly on the keys pushing the crescendos, gradually getting louder and more intense. The expressions on King’s face showed they were into it, and Iverson was literally all over the ivory with improvisational ascending melodies that only got more creative as the song built up. Reid rounded it out, almost mimicking Iverson’s playing by moving all over the fretboard.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the second set came in “Who’s He?” an original piece from Iverson. From the calypso-esque piano intro to King’s excessive use of the snare drum, this song tackled many themes. Reid carried the melody once again, but also had his time to shine within this song and frequently let his hands fly up and down the fretboard again. King was manhandling the kit with fills, yet somehow always found his way back to keeping the beat, and Iverson would alternate the main theme to get his own ideas in there. Everything about this song embodies the sound of The Bad Plus, showing how they can all be completely out there making their own sounds and return to the shared central theme just moments later.

Ethan Iverson – The Bad Plus :: 01.08 by Pete Vander Pluym
King’s predominately aggressive drumming style proved to be both a blessing and sometimes a curse throughout the night, which was made more apparent as we upgraded seats to a front table against the wall. Sitting on the side of the stage where King was set up, you could only faintly hear any piano or bass at times. Anderson’s upright bass was amplified but the volume was too low. But, watching King ferociously assault the drum kit up close was well worth such a minor sacrifice.

An encore was not to be expected but was appreciated nonetheless, as The Bad Plus had not played one at Wednesday’s show. When Iverson began with the dissonant melody, not many people knew what was about to hit them. As soon as he began the main theme, laughter erupted in pockets of the crowd as they realized what was being played. This version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” was straightforward except for an impressive, extended drum solo from King toward the end, serving as a bridge between the doom-and-gloom first sections and the jubilant ending section before the outro.

Despite the repeats in setlists from night to night, The Bad Plus still more than thoroughly impressed, showing that like many jazz musicians, improvisation and virtuosity are two very important characteristics of their music.

The Bad Plus :: 01.08.10 :: Jazz at the Bistro :: St. Louis, MO
Set I: Have You Met Miss Jones?, Knows the Difference, Rhinoceros Is My Profession, Bill Hickman at Home, Cheney Pinata, My Friend Metatron, Metal, 2PM, Forces, Layin’ a Strip for the Higher-Self State Line
Set II: Prehensile Dream, Big Eater, Birthday Gift, And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation, Guilty, Who’s He?, Snowball, Beryl Loves to Dance, The Radio Tower Has a Beating Tower
E: Iron Man

The Bad Plus tour dates available here.

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