The Bad Plus

I meant to post this two weeks ago and as usual, the sheer load of stuff I need to do got in the way. I’m in the final two weeks of getting a project out and… well, nevermind, I don’t wanna talk about work. Let’s just say, busy with a side of busy. Anyway, I’m […]

I meant to post this two weeks ago and as usual, the sheer load of stuff I need to do got in the way. I’m in the final two weeks of getting a project out and… well, nevermind, I don’t wanna talk about work. Let’s just say, busy with a side of busy.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about music.

My current big band obssion is The Bad Plus.

I blogged about them not long ago; but since then I’ve seen them play live since.

I discovered this band sort of by accident; my friend Chris (also known as Papa by my kids, Christo von Paisley back in the Jailbait Babysitters days), and as Papa Christo by a whole lot of our friends, mixing the two nicknames together) handed me These are the Vistas one day a couple years ago, saying, you like jazz, you should check these guys out. , and I liked them instantly.

If you have not listened to them, it’s impossible to convey in one or two song samples, and it’s difficult to describe. They are a basic jazz piano trio (piano, stand up bass, drums). However, they have a way of playing with a rock sensibility, even while very much being a jazz group. They are not really fusion, certainly not what I think of as fusion (chick corea, john mclaughlin, herbie hancock, joe zawinul). Sonically, they’re pure jazz. Yet they manage to feel more purely like a fusion than any of those bands did, at least back in fusion’s heyday in the 70s and 80s; no electric instruments, no funk bass, no distortion, but instead the rock coming from driving beats and a rock-infused melodic sense.

They play covers from Bacharach to Rush, Tears for Fears to Queen, Interpol to Black Sabbath. Yet it’s their originals I find most inspired (and you’ll find two examples below); these guys are all three accomplished composers, with distinctly different styles.

A few months ago, when I saw Richard Thompson play in Saratoga, CA, I noticed The Bad Plus listed on a bill of upcoming acts. So I was watching for tickets to go on sale.

When then did, I was nearly first in virtual line, snapping up front row seats in what has to be one of the south bay’s best small venues, the Villa Montalvo carriage house theater.

I wasn’t sure who would be going wth me, but I picked up three tickets; Chris, I was sure, would want one, but Kenny or one of my other jazz musician friends would be interested; a good seat is almost always easy to give away.

Cut to a month ago, when I posted this entry; my nine-year-old daughter Ruby, who’d always responded stringly to jazz (from the time she was an infant, if I had jazz on, she calm down and listen), developed an un-expected love for The Bad Plus.

She impressed the hell out of me. TBP are, to say the least, somewhat challenging; they play weird songs, weird time signatures, bizarre improvisational sections. They’re not user friendly jazz. Ruby got them, and loved them. She kept seeking them out in my iPod, asked me to load them onto hers. When I told her I had an extra ticket, she enthusiastically said yet, I want to go!

When the night of the show came, Ruby was excited to the point of speechlessness. Se’s funny like that, her sister gets twitchy and talks non-stop when excited, chatters so fast you wonder when she has time to breathe. Not Ruby; she goes near-catatonic. Like so much sensory input sends her into a fugue state. That’s how they were when we were seeing Wicked; Olivia vibrating and ruby absolutely still, wide-eyed and stone faced. Both in a state of rapture, but with polar opposite appearances.


Ruby’s never been to a concert before; Olivia’s seen Rush, Cheap Trick, Crowded house, and some friend’s bands in local all-ages places. Ruby, for no reason other than her age and her status as the younger child, hasn’t ever been to a real, grown-up show. So I thought it was pretty cool to make this her first concert; Rush for olivia, the hyper-active rock girl, and Jazz for Ruby. It fit their personalities.

The concert – was amazing. If you like The Bad Plus, you need to see them live. What you hear on record is what they do. But seeing it, paqrticularly seeing the drummer, it’s suddenly clear exactly how inspired they are. They playing is fantastic, but I’ve seen other brilliant players. But to see and hear exactly how organic the fusion of styles they produce is, somehow makes the record even better.

The drummer – Dave King – as a madman. He plays the entire kit – stands, racks and all, sometimes looking like he’s in a frenzy trying to hit more things. He plays with children’s toys, beating his drums, shaking. BUt the thing is, it’s not crashing thunder like, say, keith moon, another madman drummer. He’s playing, much of the time, so quietly you have to sit in complete silence to hear the tiny noises he’s making, rubbing a crash symbol with the tip of a stick to produce a faint, high whine.

If he’s not the best, most inspired drummer I’ve ever seen play, he’s certainly close. And I was sitting no more than 12 feet from his kit the night we saw them.

They’re an odd, geeky bunch on stage. Reid Anderson, the bass player, plays with his eyes closed almost the entire time, looking up only when he’s waiting for a visual cue; and Ethan Iverson, the band’s leader and brilliant peani pianist, is the second oddest frontman I’ve ever seen, after a friend’s autistic 14 year old son I saw fronting a punk band. Iverson tells bizarre stories about the meanings of songs, stps in the middle of bits, tells jokes that he doesn’t seen to understand are funny. He’s peculiar and loveable.

I would have gone every night of a week stand,if they’d done that here the way they’re scheduled to in NYC at the Blue Note, end of March. They’re that good; and Ruby said she’d have gone with me. She loved them. Her Bad Plus t-shirt is now her most prized garment, and she tells me they’re her favorite band.

If you already know these guys, trust me, go see them. If you don’t, try to love them; they’re worth it. The’re weird, but the more you listen to them, the more they’re going to grow on you.

Below are two of the songs I heard them play. Let me know if you don’t get embedded players, I’m fiddling with a better way to link songs, and I don’t have a windows machine to check these on; they work on my mac on several browsers.

1972BronzeMedalist.mp3:

Rhinoceros Is My Profession:

0 thoughts on “The Bad Plus”

  1. Wow, a flash media player. What a great idea! 😉

    Cool post, though my favorite part was not reading about the music, but picturing your daughter all into her first concert. I love watching kids experiencing first things and seeing their eyes go all wide.

    Now, are you gonna buy tickets to Gogol Bordello for 3/13 (Warfield Theater)? Totally different concert vibe, but I need to continue to emphasize how much you will love every damn thing about them. Buy the tickets now, because they WILL sell out, if they haven’t already.

  2. One thing to note re the player: Using Safari, the volume control thingie on the player is acting weird. It shows up if i click on it, but then if I move over to try to adjust the volume, it disappears and won’t let me–unless I keep the mouse pressed down the whole time and work the track pad wit a different finger at the same time.

  3. Actually Syl that’s just an embed tag, no lash involved. Flash looks whiz-bang but had the unfortunate characteristics of being a proprietary technology (bad), requiring a plug-in (bad), and, well, being a stupid technology.

    The embed is *generally* natively supported by the web server and browser, and in fact even works on my iphone, which is cool.

    As to the volume control – well, you know, try upgrading to leopard. B^)

  4. Um, I have Leopard. You mailed it to me, remember? D’oh!

    And you didn’t answer my Gogol Bordello question. If I beg you to go, will you take me seriously?

  5. Syl, I can’t recall what I had for dinner and I am still chewing on it. On GB: I don’t have any time. I just turned down free sharks tickets. My project is set to finish end of that week. No way to plan anything this month.

    Grumble.

  6. Have to agree with Miss Syl — it is a most amazing thing to watch a kid react to their first encounter with something that reaches them down deep. I took my oldest (perilously close to turning 13) boy to a cirque du soleil show and spent some time pondering how to get him back into his skin if and when he actually managed to burst out of it. All of this followed by a meal at a local diner during which our lovely in-her-late-teens waitress spent most of her time hovering around our table and shooting the Boy adoring looks. He was so excited, enthusiastically talking about the show, that the only thing he noticed was how he never had a chance to finish his coke before she was bringing him a new one. Priceless time, that.

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