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Jazz Fest review: The Bad Plus

Daring, undeterred and innovative, the NY trio energized some, and confused others.


NYC's The Bad Plus (the deadpan irony a clever joke) incite extreme diversions of opinion. Give you an example. In the elevator descending from the eighth-floor Baronet Ballroom in the Delta Halifax, one elated concert attendee, face creased in a huge grin, exclaimed, "That was great!" From somewhere back of the crowded car, a weary disgruntled voice groaned, "Oh yeah?" What we heard was no evening of easy listening trad jazz. Nattily suited, shaved-dome pianist Ethan Iverson, with haired bassist Reid Anderson and shaved-melon, multi-tattooed drummer David King, wowed most and conversely alarmed some of the full-house from ready-set-go, with a furious detonation of poly-rhythmic sonic propulsion hurtled along relentlessly by uber-powerful bass and percussion playing. In gear, Iverson (accidently-on-purpose) ripped out left-hand driving piano figures astringently at odds with trip-hammer right hand figures. Like a battle of glancing blows. Now I knew what to expect: my CD of The Bad Plus-Prog on heavy rotation of late. For those taken unawares (like that poor beaten-down soul in the elevator), the shock must have been enormous. And perplexing. Savvy musicially, The Bad Plus showcased composers of like sensibilities. Daring. Undeterred. Innovative. Given to explorations of rhythmic complexity. Such as Ornetter Coleman. Milton Babbitt. Lukas Ligeti. And, yup, Kurt Cobain: "Smells Like Teen Spirit;" with more roil—its nihilistic angst retained. I thought I could detect elements of Serge Prokofiev's smoking, explosive "Precipitato" from "Sonata Number 7," the loopy off-kilter melody-making of Thelonious Monk and, no kidding, Randy Newman in an Iverson-penned serio-comic piece called Bill Hickman At Home. Witty. Exciting. Dynamic. Exhausting. The Bad Plus (or The Rad Pulse) deservedly received a standing ovation with frenetic chapping, cheering whistles and whoops to match anything they performed. To cop a slogan: Those who liked it, liked it... a lot.

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