andrew kruse-ross | the bad plus | jan. 2019
With an energized and ambitious jazz faculty at UWGB, a successful 6:30 Concert Series, and concert venues like the east side's Blue Opus friendly to jazz, it's plain to see that jazz culture is on the rise in Green Bay. And, as one of contemporary jazz's hottest acts comes to town to headline Jazz Fest 49 at the Weidner Center on January 26, that's likely a good thing.
The Bad Plus defies easy categorization. The trio, comprised of bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and group newcomer, pianist Orrin Evans, simply can't be pinned down with labels. Their ability to perform outside the box as improvisers seats them firmly alongside avant-garde stalwarts like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry but the trio's sense of composition, melody and pop sensibilities makes the Bad Plus accessible even to those with few or no jazz albums in the record crate.
Nothing is off limits for the Bad Plus. The group is equally at home creating their own material as they are taking on covers one wouldn't normally associate with jazz. Covers of Nirvana, Rush and Black Sabbath songs are reinvented by the Bad Plus and made uniquely their own, albeit within the haunting familiar framework of the original recordings.
“We're always interested in combining the avant-garde with the pop sensibilities," says bassist Reid Anderson.
Doing so, he says, allows the group to play within the free space of the music while coming back to elements of popular music that bring the listener to a place of familiarity.
In the end, all improvisational freedoms aside, Anderson insists the band's focus is “playing a song."
“That song can lean in a more avant-garde direction or it can be more overtly poppy or catchy but we strive for clarity and we strive for something that makes sense."
Listeners and critics have received the band's message loud and clear as the Bad Plus has obtained considerable praise since its first album was released back in 2001. That praise continues to come in with the band's latest album, “Never Stop II," which the New York Times called “an exhilarating document."
The new album, the band's 13th to date, is the first to feature pianist Orrin Evans.
While lineup changes are seemingly intrinsic to jazz groups, that has not been so for the Bad Plus, who parted ways with longtime pianist Ethan Iverson in 2017.
One might think that losing one-third of a trio may mean the end for a band, but the title of the group's newest album should send a pretty clear message: the Bad Plus aren't stopping now. Not surprising for a band that has never featured a clearly defined leader but instead focused on the synergy created between three musicians of exceptional skill.
And so the Bad Plus continues with Evans at the keys.
When asked if the search for a pianist to replace Iverson was difficult, Anderson says he and King knew exactly who to call.
“Dave and I had talked about Orrin for a number of years as someone we'd like to play with," says Anderson. “He was the only person we considered and the only person we asked."
The current tour hasn't much in the way of past covers, according to Anderson, but provides an opportunity to take their recent studio work on the road, airing out the new album with audiences while giving many their first taste of the band with Evans as a member.
“Mostly, this is a process of welcoming Orrin to the band, having a whole new record with him and incorporating in some of our older tunes as well."
We thought it'd be cool to do our part as jazz ambassadors and get Anderson's take on a few jazz albums. Below are his recommendations for the novice looking to get into jazz, and, for the seasoned listener, a contemporary jazz musician worth checking out.
Must-Have Albums for the Novice:
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue" (1959)
Reid says: “It think it's still the number one selling jazz album of all time and that's for a reason; it's great music, it's accessible and it sounds great."
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963)
Reid says: “Gorgeous. Still one of my favorite records of all time and very accessible, I think."
Honorable Mention: John Coltrane “Crescent" (1964)
Album to Break into the Avant-Garde:
Ornette Coleman “Science Fiction" (1971)
Reid says: “The avant-garde can be intimidating at first but it doesn't have to be. If you put on something like 'What Reason Could I Give?' it's very powerful music and I think if somebody has an open mind there's no reason they won't feel or get something from that."
Contemporary Artist to Check Out:
Craig Taborn, Pianist
Reid says: “Dave and I grew up in Golden Valley, Minnesota, with another incredible musician: Craig Taborn. He is definitely one of the greats out there and worth checking out. I highly recommend it."
The Bad Plus visits the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on January 26 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets visit WeidnerCenter.com or TicketStarOnline.com. For more info on the Bad Plus visit TheBadPlus.com.