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The Bad Plus

While it’s still early in the year, The Bad Plus made a strong showing for live performance of the year Friday night as part of the Jazz and Blues Concert Series.

It is almost impossible to describe or categorize this trio. They are a prime example of the variously attributed thought that “talking about music is like dancing architecture.” There’s jazz, there’s rock riffs, there’s free jazz, there’s alt rock/punk, there’s almost avant-garde sounds. Perhaps the only way to even come close to explaining this trio is that it not only melds various idioms and concepts, it does so by changing rhythm and tempo as fluidly as if they were quicksilver. Yet despite the changes and variations, the three always work together and find their way back to rhythms and themes previously expressed in the piece. As I told the friend who attended with me, several tunes seemed like a musical version of the later work of M.C. Escher.

While these same sounds are on their CDs, actually seeing the energy and talent of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King brings nuance and perspective. Iverson combines classicism and wonderful jazz piano. Just as easily as you can see Anderson and his string bass necessarily being in a jazz trio, he can easily flow to the style of a rock bassist. King, meanwhile, probably gets more sounds out of a drum kit than anyone I have seen and at times each extremity was providing a different rhythm.

Playing a significant number of compositions from their new album, Suspicious Activity?, the trio often brought the traditionally staid and reserved Sioux Falls audience to their feet. Yet the audience also displayed the division over The Bad Plus in the music world. Prior to the encore, a relatively significant part of the crowd left. Maybe some of the tunes were a little too edgy. For example, their cover of the theme from “Chariots of Fire” reminded me of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” as the theme seemed to melt as it was deconstructed into concepts the composer never could have imagined.

Quite frankly, although I’ve found their recordings interesting, I don’t know that I could handle a steady diet of The Bad Plus on CD. They may be pushing the envelope but it seems more comprehensible — and it’s undoubtedly a helluva lot of fun — to see them doing so live.


Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is.

Miles Davis, Miles

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