The Bad Plus Live in St. Louis

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Wednesday January 27, 2010

By Patrick Shamel

The Bad Plus :: 01.08.10 :: Jazz at the Bistro :: St. Louis, MO

Amidst pianist Ethan Iverson’s dry humor in addressing the crowd between songs and drummer Dave King’s various children’s musical instruments utilized for fills and perhaps intentional hilarity, what really stands out about The Bad Plus is their virtuosity and sharp improvisation in a live setting.

For the fourth consecutive year, the jazz trio brought their mix of original songs and eclectic take on deconstructed covers to Jazz at the Bistro for another four-night run of shows. It obviously takes a lot of material to play eight sets without repeating any songs, so it was not surprising that probably 80-percent of the setlist was repeated on a nightly basis. However, The Bad Plus’ improvisation kept these repeated songs new and fresh for those who caught more than one show on this St. Louis stint.

The trio opened the first set of Friday’s show with their take on the jazz standard “Have You Met Miss Jones?” The upbeat lounge vibe of this song is atypical of what The Bad Plus usually play, so it was rather interesting to hear their interpretation of this famous swing composition. Reid Anderson carried the melody with a walking bass line on the upright for the majority of the song. True to form, they ended the song intertwining the tempo of their original “Physical Cities” and repeating the same note over and over.

The highlight of the first set didn’t come until nearly halfway through when they went into “My Friend Metatron,” a King composition. King’s slow drumming was nicely complemented by Anderson’s nasty bass work. It was an interesting juxtaposition between the dark verses and a joyous chorus, at times showing their prog influences. It almost sounded like they were channeling Rush at one point, paying homage to the classic rock band (they covered “Tom Sawyer” on their 2007 album, appropriately titled Prog).

The second set began with “Prehensile Dream,” the first track off their 2005 album Suspicious Activity? This track was a perfect selection for a set opener and displayed the band’s expertise in dynamics. Iverson started off the song slowly on the keys pushing the crescendos, gradually getting louder and more intense. The expressions on King’s face showed they were into it, and Iverson was literally all over the ivory with improvisational ascending melodies that only got more creative as the song built up. Reid rounded it out, almost mimicking Iverson’s playing by moving all over the fretboard.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the second set came in “Who’s He?” an original piece from Iverson. From the calypso-esque piano intro to King’s excessive use of the snare drum, this song tackled many themes. Reid carried the melody once again, but also had his time to shine within this song and frequently let his hands fly up and down the fretboard again. King was manhandling the kit with fills, yet somehow always found his way back to keeping the beat, and Iverson would alternate the main theme to get his own ideas in there. Everything about this song embodies the sound of The Bad Plus, showing how they can all be completely out there making their own sounds and return to the shared central theme just moments later.

Photo Credit: John Barnes

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