Photo: The Bad Plus website
Trio The Bad Plus are playing their final tour with pianist Ethan Iverson before he is replaced by Orrin Evans. Bass player REID ANDERSON spoke to AJ Dehany about the past, present and future of the group, revealing some good news for fans.
The Bad Plus are cherished for their stylistic and compositional eclecticism, intimate group dynamic and searing emotional impact. In April they announced that after 17 years and 12 studio albums, founding pianist Ethan Iverson will be replaced by Orrin Evans. A long farewell tour includes a date at London’s Jazz Cafe on 24 November, ahead of which I spoke to bass player Reid Anderson by phone from San Francisco.
Reid explained that the unusually long handover time between Ethan and Orrin is out of loyalty to each other and to their audience. “We’ve always prioritized bringing everything we can to the bandstand and we feel a deep connection with people who have come to see us and followed us for many years. I think the band sounds as good as it ever has and we’ve put a lot of our hearts and souls collectively into this and it’s important to all of us.”
Their final gig together will be on New Year’s Eve. He says, “It’s kinda poetic in a way. We’ve been playing New Year’s Eve week at the Village Vanguard for the last eight to ten years. It’s a special place for us, as it is for every jazz musician on the planet. It just worked out that way and that’s the last concert we’ll play together.”
Such a profound change in the lineup was a big surprise to fans. Reid Anderson had said in 2009: “It’s not a band with interchangeable parts.” When he talks about Ethan leaving the band, Reid has a discomfiting guardedness you might understand as a politic respectfulness to his longstanding bandmate, but at times an acerbic note comes lancing through, suggesting a hurt that’s hard to disguise.
“We’ve been committed to being a band and playing music since day one and we’ve never done a show with somebody else [in one of the trio roles]. However, Ethan doesn’t want to be in the band any more. Dave [King, drummer] and I still very much believe in this band and our body of work. It’s been in a way our life’s work. It’s very important to us and we thought about it and felt like we really wanted to continue what we’ve started here. With Orrin it will be the same thing. It’s not like we’re gonna have substitute pianists or something like that. He’ll be incorporated into the band and be one third of the band.”
I’d read some strange things about tensions caused by outgoing pianist Ethan Iverson’s role as a jazz critic in his Do The Math blog. I couldn’t tell if it was an esoteric joke or not, the jazz equivalent of Spinal Tap losing a succession of drummers in bizarre gardening accidents.
“I don’t know what you heard about that,” says Reid. “He has his life as a jazz critic and that’s totally separate from what we do in the band. That’s totally his thing. It has nothing to do with The Bad Plus.”
Regarding a reported “disconnection” between him and Ethan, Reid says, “Well it’s been a long time. We’ve played a lot of music together and spent a lot of time together and he doesn’t wanna play in the band any more. It’s not a requirement to be in the band.”
He paints the decision as primarily Ethan’s decision. Reid says there was “not enough real estate for him. One third of a band isn’t enough real estate for him—in his words.”
“The Bad Plus has always been this very open kind of place for everybody to bring their influences. Ethan and I don’t necessarily share interests in all music and whatever, but everybody gets to bring their thing to the table and it gets treated with respect, and that’s the same with Orrin. He has his world and The Bad Plus has always been this plus this plus this and we put it together and we all know where everybody coming from. Orrin’s not as deeply involved in the classical music world but he brings his own strengths and I think those will become readily apparent once people hear the music.”
I ask if there will be any more ‘Bad Plus Plusses’ in the foreseeable future like their incandescent quartet work with Joshua Redman.
“Well,” he laughs, “give us a chance to play together, the three of us, for a while! Of course we’re open to that, we’ve talked about some things we’d like to do, but that’s not in the near future—that’s just beyond the near future.”
To my surprise Reid says they’ve already made the next The Bad Plus album with Orrin Evans, recorded over a couple of days in September in Brooklyn. It will be released next year, perhaps as early as January.
“It’s not like all of a sudden there’s this dark line between one and the other. He’s got a lot of music to learn. The fact is we’ve been playing together for 17 years and Orrin is coming in cold. I think he’s doing really a brave thing to put himself in this situation where inevitably some people are gonna try to compare. He’s gonna find his own voice in there.
“I can guarantee you with Orrin it’s not gonna sound unlike The Bad Plus. Yes, They are very distinctly different pianists. Orrin, he’s like a fellow weirdo. It’s one of the requirements to be in the band. And he’s also a friend. I’ve known Orrin since the early ’90s and as of right now we’re not deconstructing, so to speak, anyone else’s music, it’s all original music to start out with. We’ll follow the thread where it takes us over the next 17 years!”