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REVIEW The Bad Plus in New York, NY

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Thursday September 16, 2010

from SoundSpike

Concert: The Bad Plus in New York, NY
Story by Phil Gallo

The trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, drummer David King and bassist Reid Anderson is celebrating 10 years of performing together by stepping away from the rock ‘n’ roll repertoire that generated their initial buzz. Their new album, “Never Stop,” is their first collection of all original compositions, many of which made their way into a first-rate show at the Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday (9/15).

At their inception, the Bad Plus were three superb musicians aiming to pull in a non-jazz audience by interpreting tunes like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” At the decade mark, with seven studio albums released, they are a premier jazz trio that has expanded the horizons of both the band and its audience.

The sense that the Bad Plus delivers powerfully communicative work was palpable Wednesday night. The crowd was quietly attentive, especially on the ballads, keyed in to the musicianship and interplay, which has reached an astonishingly high level. (Coincidentally, Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of the death of jazz great Bill Evans, who set the high-water mark for piano trios in the early 1960s, and each time the Bad Plus seamlessly allowed each musician to take command of a composition, one could not help but feel the influence of the Evans-Scott LoFaro-Paul Motian style.)

One of the slower numbers, a blues titled “Bill Hickman at Home” — Hickman was the stunt car driver in the films “Bullitt” and “The French Connection” — played out cinematically, Thelonious Monk as interpreted by Randy Newman. So fulfilling were the originals on this night — they made up a good 90% of the 100 minutes they spent onstage — that there was was no sense anything missing. Throwing in a cover of a tune by Yes or David Bowie or “Chariots of Fire” wouldn’t have improved the set.

Pianist Iverson is as smart at pacing a show as he is a player, following the knottier tunes with songs that are more toe-tapping — a cover of Ornette Coleman’s “War Years,” for example, slid into a tune neatly described as Vince Guaraldi interpreting Radiohead. A few songs had locked-in, monochromatic beats that provided force and and restricted rhythmic parameters; elsewhere, King was free to roam sonic landscape. And the bassist Anderson worked his way from front to back of the group’s sound with ease; collectively, they provided a consistently intense listening experience.

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