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REVIEW: The Bad Plus - 'Rite of Spring'

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Monday April 02, 2012

from The Cornell Daily Sun

The Riots of Spring
By Lubabah Chowdhury

Igor Stravinsky is a rather controversial name in the music world. His 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring is well known not only for its jarring dissonance and abnormal rhythmic patterns but also for causing one of the most notorious riots in musical history. Audience members booed and walked out of the theater when members of Serge Diaghilev’s dancing troupe Ballets Russes appeared on stage, gesticulating frenetically and stomping in an inelegant manner. Of course, one should expect nothing less, considering Stravinsky’s inspiration. “There arose,” he wrote later on in his life, “a picture of a sacred pagan ritual: the wise elders are seated in a circle and are observing the dance before the death of the girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of spring in order to gain his benevolence.” The music perfectly reflects the grotesque beauty of this vision: The opening bassoon solo beckons us to a mysterious world that quickly turns violent with frightening string chords, yet also an inner peace survives with the repetition of the simple initial melody. The only thing that could possibly make this piece more unorthodox and exciting? Why, having a jazz trio reinterpret it, of course!

While The Bad Plus, featuring Reid Anderson on the bass, Ethan Iverson on the piano and David King on the drums, is famous for what The New York Times called mixing “the sensibilities of post-‘60s jazz and indie rock,” their performance on Friday at Bailey Hall featured their reworking of Stravinsky’s piece. Considering the unusually large orchestra The Rite of Spring calls for, one cannot help but wonder how three musicians could ever conceive of taking on this challenge. But once Iverson began playing, the audience knew it was in good hands.

The gentle tones of the piano added to the eerie atmosphere the opening solo creates; Iverson seemed to be teasing out the notes from his instrument, causing the audience to breathlessly anticipate the chaos to come. King’s drumming was astoundingly energized, more than compensating for the lack of an orchestra piece. Iverson was the never-faltering heartbeat of the piece, though he had more than one shining solo. The most impressive part of the performance, however, was the amount of respect the three players clearly had for the original work. While other artists would have added more complex rhythmic figures and schmaltzy solos, the integrity of the musical score was not compromised. As Iverson stated, The Rite of Spring “[has] really been one of the seminal works of art,” and it would be a shame to try to make it anything other than what it is.

Cooperation between the group members was key to the wonderful performance. While orchestras rely on a conductor to aid them in forming a cohesive group, these three musicians only had each other to rely on during what most likely was the hardest half-hour of performance any musician could possibly envisage. Their eye contact was not only important in sustaining the music, but also in the audience’s perception of the group as a cooperative unit, rather than three individual players. Choir teachers always tell their students to smile while singing, the logic being that the audience will enjoy the performance if the performers seem to be enjoying the performance; The Bad Plus was able to convey unadulterated, unfeigned enjoyment that certainly enhanced the wonderful music. King’s smile of glee and Iverson’s occasional leap off the piano bench — as if the music had electrified him — was just as enjoyable to watch as the music was to hear.

Read the full article here