[JPL] A Jazz Trio Big Enough to Tackle David Bowie

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Dec 14 18:14:07 EST 2007

December 14, 2007
Music Review | Bad Plus
A Jazz Trio Big Enough to Tackle David Bowie 
The first tour de force came strategically late in the
game on Wednesday night, in the first Zankel Hall
appearance by the Bad Plus. It began with a delicate
flourish: Ethan Iverson at the piano, announcing a
major chord. There was a moment of ceremonial silence,
and then the outline of a melody, expressed by the
bassist Reid Anderson in his deeply resonant tone.
Soon Mr. Iverson added a shimmer of reflective
atonality, suggesting a hint of Debussy. David King,
the drummer, fluttered his brushes against a cymbal. 

They were playing “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie, and
their reading said a lot about the priorities of the
band. The Bad Plus has a forthright respect for melody
as well as a fierce allegiance to abstraction; somehow
the two go hand in hand. And neither grandeur nor
sentiment is a source of embarrassment for these
musicians, whose only armor is an ironclad conviction
in their own rare chemistry. So “Mars,” which
gradually assumed heroic dimensions, was the perfect
showcase in more than one sense.

There were quite a few others in the concert, though,
most of them original compositions. The evening’s
overture was “Let Our Garden Grow,” a piece by Mr.
Iverson featuring a snow flurry of rhythmic
fluctuations. “My Friend Meditron,” by Mr. King,
included a recurring jag of dissonance, like something
Chick Corea might have produced in his avant-garde
phase. And Mr. Anderson’s “Physical Cities” was the
second tour de force; coming right after the Bowie
tune, it managed to raise the bar, moving episodically
between stark syncopations and a flowing principal

Historically the band has contained three distinct
styles of composition — one for each member —
absorbing them all into a greater sound. That’s still
mostly true, but the concert proposed a few intriguing
signs of internal influence. Among them was “Who’s
He,” a new piece by Mr. Iverson that borrowed a phrase
from “Physical Cities.” Later came “Beryl Loves to
Dance,” which was recently composed by Mr. Anderson in
what nearly resembles the style of Mr. King:
hard-charging, athletic, with a slight whiff of
comedy. Fittingly for a band that prizes cohesion, the
sensibilities seem to be merging ever more clearly.

The Bad Plus is still easy enough to splice into its
component parts: Mr. Iverson, with his flinty touch
and sly chromaticism; Mr. Anderson, a pillar of
tonality and a center of gravity; and Mr. King, a
manic wild card of texture as well as groove. But the
band has managed a sort of unconscious calibration of
these energies, so that the contrast never produces an

On “Song X,” by Ornette Coleman, the Bad Plus boiled
everything down to an essence. The first statement of
the theme, twitchy and audacious, was followed by a
pregnant pause. When the band came back in, it felt
doubly jarring, even as it brought a sense of release.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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