Live review

The Bad Plus at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Orrin Evans of The Bad Plus, Cheltenham 2019

Photo credit and © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

The Bad Plus
(Jazz Arena, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 5 May 2019. Review by Mike Collins)

This was definitely The Bad Plus. The music walked like The Bad Plus, it sounded like The Bad Plus – those first quietly stroked chords to start the gig were Everywhere You Turn an old favourite from the debut album – and yet, they’re walking with a renewed spring in their step. After releasing Never Stop II last year, their first with Orrin Evans in the piano chair, this was astonishingly their first ever appearance at Cheltenham and, nearly twenty years since they burst onto the jazz scene, on this showing they are bristling with energy and invention.


Big Eater’s crashing, rhythmically off-kilter chords disrupted the swelling elegiac feel of the opener. Evans was dazzling, by turns pounding the keys and then delivering glittering, crisply articulated runs shooting through the cracks. His own tune Commitment went from quiet, lustrous chords to turmoil and percussive frenzy back to becalmed meditation. Reid Anderson’s pen provided much of the set, angular mutating motifs anchoring sometimes the crashing anthemic chords of Safe Passage, that gave way to volcanic collective improvisation, Evans deploying his elbows liberally; sometimes the quieter, relentless momentum of Salvages, Dave King deploying brushes to colour and hustle them along. Another Evans piece Boffadem was carried along by Anderson’s resonant bass, cycling through an odd-meter riff as Evans dug in, his instinctively grooving time feel gave his scampering, gradually unwinding runs an electric edge.

The Bad Plus at Cheltenham, 2019

Photo credit and © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Andersons’ introductions were laced with deadpan, divergent humour and by the time they reached the close, Seams, if this enthusiastic Cheltenham audience needed winning over, they were certainly in the palm of his hand. Seams was a good reminder of the emotional range of this band and the freedom with which they play, for all the tightly scripted dramatic twists and turns in many of their pieces. It started with chiming, hymn-like chords Evans gradually developing the affecting melody, Anderson continually finding just right note on bass to make the harmony sing. The organic, loose feel thickened in intensity as they reached a crescendo, an emotional climax to an exciting ride. The Bad Plus are back and on cracking form.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

Categories: Live review

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