The Bad Plus offers jazzy, unpredictable show

By Matthew Fernandes
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
01/07/2010

Blizzard, schmizzard. Bee Gees, Schmee Gees.

As the city outside got pummeled with snow, progressive trio the Bad Plus opened its four-night stint at Jazz at the Bistro Wednesday with a set of modern jazz that was at turns charming and wildly exhilarating.

Lacking the vocalist the group featured on last year’s “For All I Care” album, there were no Bee Gees, Nirvana or other pop-music covers to be found. This was not an issue, however, as the 10-year veterans in the Bad Plus let their potent chops do the talking before a nearly full, enthusiastic house.

Opening with the standard, “Have You Met Ms. Jones?,” the band set the tone for the night, jumping all over the rhythmic map. Playing like a well-oiled machine, the trio kept the audience on its toes with a dizzying display of tempos and styles. At the song’s end, the band suddenly broke into an original tune, “Physical Cities,” executing synchronized hard notes with varying lengths of rest in between — all without looking at each other. At this, someone in the back shouted, “How are you going to top that?”

Next came “Knows the Difference.” Here, jubilant drummer Dave King was all sticks, hands and elbows as he attacked his drum kit from every angle. While utilizing the drum shells and stands as much as the heads, King drowned out the other members at times. His controlled chaos was something you couldn’t take your eyes off.

On “Rhinoceros is My Profession,” the band settled into a more traditional jazz groove — that is, until King pulled out what looked like a large toy chicken. Things got delightfully weird as King rattled the bells inside the chicken while rolling it over the drums.

The unreleased original tune “Bill Hickman at Home” was written by pianist Ethan Iverson but could have been a gift to bandmate Reid Anderson. The bassist carried the melancholy song and delivered a gripping, emotional solo. The band switched gears on “Cheney Piñata.” The Vince Guaraldi-sounding tune featured Iverson playing a beguiling melody over King’s playful Mexican drumbeat. Halfway through, King laid down a heavy hip-hop drumbeat as Anderson bobbed his head to the beat.

The highlight of the set was “Metal,” written by György ligeti . In it, an unrelenting barrage of high piano notes rained down as King and Anderson somehow kept pace with the ever-changing time signatures. Though “Metal” was about as simple as a Picasso painting, the band thrived off the tension.

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