(Days 1 and 3 of Kings Place residency, part of London Jazz Festival, Thursday 18th and Saturday 20th November 2010; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)
The Bad Plus delivered two greatly different concerts at either end of their 3-day residency, which speaks volumes for their collective level of confidence and imagination. Ethan Iverson (piano) , David King (drums) and Reid Anderson (bass) made themselves at home at Kings Place, and presented a series of events to celebrate their first ten years. Their powerful opening concert showcased their most recent album, Never Stop (Emarcy) the first they have released containing only original tunes. On the final night they teamed up with Django Bates for an extraordinary, uncategorisable improvised set.
Going back to the 1990s, Iverson sowed the seeds which formally became the Bad Plus at the turn of the century. Since then the three have given great dedication to the evolution of their trio, and steered a course which combines virtuosity with a bubbling inquisitive streak and a magpie sensibility. Assiduously refusing to be pigeon-holed they hover over the pools of anthemic pop, flamboyant classical and ardent minimalism, yet can always be tracked back to a jazz grounding. This wide-ranging referencing disguises their discipline and command, a trait which can wrong-foot the uninitiated.
The first night was very much about the trio. The Bad Plus responded to the space and exceptional acoustics of Hall One by treating it almost as a studio. Cheered by a dedicated audience as they took to the stage, they kicked off with the deliberate, solo bass intro of ‘Let Our Garden Grow’ which let in a diversionary, simple piano melody and saw King, as ever, grappling with the possibilities of percussion, scraping the end of a drumstick on a cymbal, beating a child’s toy containing bells, or very quietly brushing the drum kit with his hands.
The dramatic ‘And here we test our powers of observation’ followed, before easing in to numbers from the new album. Their choppy changes wove a melodramatic and melancholy filmic backdrop which might have been a journey across the American continent, taking in the moods and cultures of the midwest, from which they hail. I was reminded of the Jacques Loussier Trio; Anderson as Michelot, Iverson as Loussier … they have that ability to mine the popular and the classical from a jazz perspective.
‘2PM’ – ‘tea time?’ Iverson ventured mock-resignedly, perhaps because he was in London, was dedicated to Paul Motian, with a jaunty theme (almost ‘Secret Love’) and a piano deviation so offbeat it might have been ‘Chopsticks’ at one point. ‘People Like You’ and the unrecorded ‘In Stitches’ were memorable for their poignancy and quiet composure, qualities which infused much of their intense two-hour set.
It was in the setting of unbridled improvisation with a musician whom they all admire, but had never previously performed with, Django Bates, that they showed the other side of their musical personality. Closer to Iverson’s and King’s sorties with Buffalo Collision, they generously gave both house room and the initiative to Django in a one and a half hour roller-coaster ride where all four had to be at the peak of their improvisational game, lest they should drop the meteorically fast-travelling baton.
It was a remarkable dialogue of pure invention, dynamic discord and constant movement. For a spell we might have been in a Stockhausen concert where they juggled with crackly electronics and absurdist interventions, with Iverson bouncing on his piano stool to add creaks to the sonic texture. Gershwin, Rachmaninov and Art Blakey were always just round the corner, too.
Django’s frenetic electric keyboard work was dazzling, changing pace and tone by the minute, augmented by his tenor horn and synthesised vocals – a great foil to Iverson’s florid restraint on the acoustic grand, King’s meticulous, madcap drumming collages and Anderson’s ventures in to the percussive as well as the more conventional potential of the upright bass. All of which didn’t stop them leaning in to a rich blues segment, beautifully held. Visually, too, Django’s orange button-down shirt provided contrast to Iverson’s formal monochrome, and when he launched in to one lavish solo, the Plus ground to a halt to just watch and delight in his invention.
To round off proceedings, a session with Seb Rochford and Leafcutter John in Hall Two saw them in a more relaxed mode after their earlier exertions.
Thursday was an evening of brilliant poise and balance. Saturday was a total, special, one-off. The two combined were a great adventure
Jazz on 3 will be broadcasting the Saturday concert on January 17th 2011.