When The Bad Plus opened its show at the Linda Norris Auditorium Thursday night, drummer David King dominated the tune so much that you wondered: is this his tune, or is he going to dominate all night? Well, it was his tune, and in part it was his show, because he never stopped all night.
But it was also a trio performance. Bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson were also there for fans to soak up. But King is a tough presence to ignore, particularly with the subtle and often sparse playing of the other two.
Not only does King sit closest to the stage, he plays with deranged expressions that move as fast as his hands and never repeat themselves. The group, by most definitions, is a jazz trio. Its texture, its sensibilities, its variety of time signatures, and its inclination to improvise. And they’re at New York’s Blue Note for five nights next week. But they don’t swing. You can barely tap your foot.
Still, they’re a powerful, cohesive unit that models how far jazz has come and can still go. This was made clear in the first two tunes, particularly “Who’s He,” written by Iverson.
They followed with Burt Bachrach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” Iverson is a minimalist on the piano, sketching his ideas with very few notes. His lines are technically simple to follow, it’s the sketch itself that is technically complex.
The band is scheduled to play the Conan O’Brien Show tonight. They performed a “special arrangement” of “Thriftstore Jewelry,” the version they plan to play on tonight’s show, Iverson said. The song, written by Kane, is about finding a Rubik’s Cube in a store, “the old kind” that one mastered as a child, only to discover it was a newer, unfamiliar version. But then, as one exits the store, he finds that special thing locked in a glass case, transforming one’s mood to happy. Iverson told this story slowly and straight-faced.
They followed with a roaring version of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars,” which had its unrecognizable but vicious Bad-Plus moments. As always, they either crept back into the tune or explosively broke free to rejoin the Bowie song.
The group is more a unit than a typical jazz trio that comes together for a spell and then disperses.
The Bad Plus has numerous albums and years together, and their impeccable timing and feel for the other is unmistakable. At times the music moves forward in a blur, particularly when Kane gets aggressive and drowns out the others. But they trust and soon find each other, like a Marco-Polo pool game.
At first they looked like three guys who could work in the sub shop across the street. At the end, they looked like young jazz musicians heading toward the top of their game.
As always, The Linda auditorium taped the show for a future airing. Keep your ear out for it. It’s a keeper if you can get it.