The Bad Plus bring innovative sound to the chapel

Cameron Carrus

The innovative and edgy bass-drums-piano trio, The Bad Plus, took the stage in the Chapel last Friday, Feb. 1.  The group has been developing their free-flowing punk-jazz style for more than a decade, and they continue to press forward.

They opened with the first track on their most recent album, “Made Possible,” released in 2012.  The song, “Pound for Pound,” showcased the intimacy of the trio.  Pianist Ethan Iverson played a simple melody with simple accompaniment with a soft and relaxed ballad-like feel.  Drummer Dave King laid down a strong back beat.  The low end of Reid Anderson’s bass was velvety and deep.  Together they were able to produce a balanced sound, no easy feat in the Chapel for a jazz trio. 

As the energy built up, everyone took turns riffing, sharing a musical conversation.  This gave way to a brief drum feature.  You could tell after this first song that the group did not give away anywhere near all of their tricks for the evening.

The upbeat and energetic next song, King’s composition entitled “Wolf Out,” was a syncopated mixed meter song, rather hard to follow.  King displayed a vast array of textures on the drum set.  A strange, abrupt transition gave way to a garage band punk beat without harmonies, leading to a free section, which was reined in by a continuous riff in 5/4 time.

After fixing a minor sound problem of Anderson’s, the band went into a calypso-style tune.  King was the highlight of this song, always messing with the beat.  He never kept a steady feel, but whatever he was playing grooved and locked with Anderson and Iverson. 

The thematic content of the song did not develop much, but the complexity of the band’s interactions grew.  A similar technique was utilized in Anderson’s “Seven Minute Mind.”  The consistency of these songs made them accessible to the audience while simultaneously allowing the band to explore artistic possibilities.  By the same token, these compositions came off as rather self-indulgent, and may have worked better as concepts rather than finished compositions.

The more simplistic songs of this set stood out.  “People Like You” had a straight forward melody and chord progression.  No one song filled any more than was necessary.  This was also the first time King pulled out brushes for the set.  He barely touched the drums, but every sound he made was with overwhelming purpose.

The highlights of the evening were in those unexpected moments between the repetition.  “Sing for a Silver Dollar,” Iverson’s composition off of their newest CD, housed an extended free section, where the members performed sound experiments.  Iverson dropped a wrench in the piano, Anderson fiddled around with the headstock of the bass, and King matched cymbal-scrapes with the sounds of a walkie-talkie type device. 

Similarly, their rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Song X” included an avant-garde application of silence.  Between the complex melody that the three played in unison, there were two pauses of about 10 seconds each before they motioned to come back in together.

The Bad Plus took their audience on a journey of soundscapes, from frenetic to soothing, from sound to silence, from freedom of sound to strictly organized sound.  They did so all in a little over an hour.  The soundscape with which they will provide the audience of their next show will be completely different:  the audience experienced a once-in-a-lifetime concert.

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