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The Bad Plus

The Egg
Albany, NY
February 19, 2017

by Joe Major

The three-card Monte, genre-sliding, eclectic ruckus that is the Bad Plus, unfurled their wizardly reveal Sunday night at The Egg. Before a devout, willingly beguiled audience, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, shuffled potent idiomatic parts of straight ahead jazz, range-fed free jazz, and the thrum of anvil steady rockish pop.

Decidedly articulate to a fault, the trio could not have been more supportive of one another, or the tunes. Their deft legerdemain on original compositions, as well as covers, thoroughly integrated each component, galvanizing the outcomes with a signature charged, clarified impact. Often, the statements were so intricately delegated, meshed and abbreviated, that they projected as a single instrument.

Much like a high contrast silhouetted image that can be seen as either a candlestick or two facial profiles, depending on viewer perspective, also deliciously pivotal is whether a familiar tune, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” for instance, is deconstructed, as is commonly lauded in mainstream jazz mode, or constructed, something sui generis adjacent, built of fragmented snippets. What’s the primacy of a mighty hook? Their loving version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” lush and yearning and folded like origami, compelled this entranced listener to contemplate song architecture in toto.

Their go-to wheelhouse was a reserve of resonant, sometimes stately, odd-metered cadences interrupted by insertions of tear-away, rippling, freedom-seeking runs. Their beefy torque shifted fluidly into romps of quicksilver phrasing. Iverson’s piano had a plain speech quality that, especially in upper registers, turned acidic. Not sourly so, but urgently so, emitting dire shards and pangs of alarm.

On abstract numbers like Ornette Coleman’s “Law Years,” Kraftwerk’s “The Robots,” and Bad Plus originals “County Seat,” Gold Prisms Incorporated,” and “Seven Minute Mind,” Iverson’s piano insistently, stabbingly, tried to gavel the tumult of bass and drums to order.

During that stretch of five pieces, Reid Anderson introduced several of them with wry distinction, quipping about Cayman Island tax havens, the apocryphal Bad Plus Headquarters monitors zealously squeezing them to “move the merch!” and, just a tad less sardonically, acknowledging that their music could be “emotionally complex.”

And the songs reflected his assessment. There were pronounced, leaden segments of driven industrial Sturm und Drang, pounding evocations of manufactured wealth. There were inserts of swelling explosion and lulling protection. There were allusions to Chaplin-esque worker bees, and metronomic assembly lines, and numbing bots, and pealing warnings, and ominous mad races to...where?

Mind you, many of these passages were executed with swinging warp-speed tempo changes, land mine percussion, keyboard breakout verve, and manic, blown-gasket, abandon-ship bass. On and on, the targets kept moving. As a roundelay of curatorial show and tell, this particular inside suite was blatantly teasing, and delectable.

Given the excitable, everything-is-game breadth of the Bad Plus’s repertoire roulette, their coy skillfulness kept virtually every number in play.

Joe Major is an inveterate jazz pilgrim for whom the holy grail is always the evocative communion of impression meeting expression. Living over the border in Williamstown, MA, for thirty-plus years, he’s been the grateful beneficiary of countless Williams College performances that have arranged themselves on his ever shifting life list.