Tag Archives: The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2014.

This was the Edinburgh Jazz Festival gig I was most looking forward to, and simultaneously the one I was least looking forward to. That’s because it was the one that had the potential to disappoint me most, because my expectations were so high. Last tune I saw the Bad Plus play, I was disappointed, because the previous occasion – which happened to be the night before – they played, together with Joshua Redman, one of the most powerful, moving gigs I’ve ever been to. The following night, without Redman, could only have been disappointing.

What would happen this time?

Well, it wasn’t quite as good as that gig with Redman; but it was pretty close.

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Spread over two long sets, they played some beautiful music. Playing music written by each of them but keeping to a band-style, the trio seems intricately balanced: Ethan Iverson seems serious on piano, Dave King brings irreverent humour on percussion (with a bag full of gadgets and a wry smile on his face – he always looks like he’s enjoyinging himself), and between the two of them is Reid Anderson on bass, propelling them along.

Anderson also writes the tunes which most resonate with me – his “Prehensile Dream” was a high point of the gig, brooding beauty building and building to its climax. For three people, they have a big sound. There is a lot going on without it being too busy or full.

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So. This was the best of the several EJF gigs I went to this year, and I felt grateful and privileged to be there. Still, I can’t help but imagine what they’d have been like if they had surpassed their show with Redman…

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: International Bands. July 2012.

The one EJF gig that didn’t work for me was the Jeremy Pelt Quintet’s headlining show. It might have been because it was in a tent and there was a lot of spillage from neighbouring gigs; or because it was a windy evening – which, coupled with the tent, caused a lot of interfering flappage; or maybe because the band were jetlagged. Whatever, it didn’t really catch. I don’t think it help that the following first chorus was a long bass solo. It just felt like the show lacked energy.

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I saw the same band the following evening – and it felt like a different band: full of energy this time, they seemed excited to be playing, and that excitement spilled over. Which just goes to show that every band can have an off-night – but that might be the one chance that punters get to see you, and that is all they can go on…

I hadn’t planned to go to the second night of Jeremy Pelt – though I’m glad I did. They were supporting the Bad Plus with Joshua Redman; I was going to see the Bad Plus the following evening and I have been disappointed by previous collaborations with the Bad Plus (their trio work makes for a very high hurdle), but since I had never seen Redman I decided to go along. This was a very good decision: this music played was the most engaging and exciting I had heard for a long time. The Bad Plus have been touring with Redman during the summer, and he fitted in seamlessly – it felt like he had been part of the group for a long time. His presence seemed didn’t inhibit the trio at all, adding more depth. As a quartet they created marvellous music, by turns powerful, moving and humorous. (This video of one number from the gig is typical of their playing.)

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After such a superlative performance, the Bad Plus as a trio the following evening could only be disappointing. Their performance was very good, but it just couldn’t match up. This was not the band’s fault: if I felt pretty drained after the superlative performance of the night before, how must they have felt? Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone to the gig; but then I’d always have felt I was missing out…

There were two gigs which mixed up Scottish and European musicians. First up was Laura MacDonald and Joakim Milder, together with Mattias Stahl on vibes. Stahl stole the show: the two saxophonists played some lovely music, but the vibraphonist stole the show. Without a pianist or drummer, much of the rhythm-duties fell on Stahl’s shoulders.

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Trumpeter Colin Steele and pianist Dave Milligan – one of Scottish jazz’s little known heros – played an all too short duet – just a couple of numbers, which left me feeling a little short changed (Steele and Milligan work very well together!). Before, that is, Enzo Favata and his trio took to the stage and opened the way for something more interesting still. With Danilo Gallo on bass and U. T. Gandhi on drums, the saxophonist lead an energetic exploration of the space between jazz and folk improvisation, with music with its roots in (he said) Sardinia and southern Italy. It got more interesting still when the trio was joined by Steele and Milligan for a full set of exciting jazz. Much of Steele’s music is tinged with folk from the celtic fringes – his big band Stramash is active at the crossroads between jazz and folk – and Milligan has played in many folk settings. Together as a quintet, playing tunes from both their repertoire, they proved music as a universal language: each brought something different, to create an evening that felt unique. Steele and Favata had a natural ease together – their styles, though different, blended superbly. This was exciting because it was unexpected.

The Bad Plus & Django Bates. London, November 2010.

The Bad Plus were playing a three-night LJF residency at Kings Place, one of the more original bits of programming during the festival. They did one night on their own, one night with singer Wendy Lewis (which had excellent reviews on Twitter!) – and the night I saw them, with Django Bates. This was one of the gig I must post in the “good but disappointing category”: I’ve seen the Bad Plus play many times, and I was looking forward to hearing their augmented quartet tackling some of the tunes I love; what I got was ninety minutes of, I think, wholly improvised music. Some of it was inspired, some very good, but a fair chunk sounded self indulgent, too. A bit like they were trying too hard. Pianist Ethan Iverson seemed to take a backseat to Bates – Iverson seemed very reticent, as if he wasn’t wanting to get involved in the music. Bates pushed forward, with Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King being as inventive as I expected. I wanted more Iverson, though.

The Bad Plus, Happy Apple & Bad Apple at Edinburgh Jazz Festival. July 2007.

Another dose of Dave King; indeed, Dave King in three different incarnations. The first set of Bad Apple was played by the Bad Plus . Only three numbers – over half an hour or so – and it was interesting to compare them with Happy Apple the previous night. The tunes were slightly differently constructed (sure, it’s hard to tell on three numbers – but I have seen this band a lot, and it quickly came back to me); and there was a piano. Ethan Iverson – a regular visitor to Edinburgh, with or without King and Anderson – plays quite sparse piano: he likes Monk (and last year he played a set of Monk tunes), and often his input into the music is just a few chords here and there.

I believe Reid Anderson is the real star of the Bad Plus: his bass playing gives the band both solidity and flexibility – he allows Iverson and King to play around more. And he writes beautiful tunes which build in the intensity.

Then there was another, short set from Happy Apple. Their last tune was excellent – building and building to a climax, Lewis wailing on sax against the solid electric bass and King’s insistent drums. Wonderful stuff.

After the break, all five musicians came back on as Bad Apple. (Three of the five sport shaven heads; I couldn’t help feeling they should have been called Bald Apple. Lewis and Anderson seemed resolutely hirsute.) Before the concert, the Canadian couple sitting next to me had asked me what to expect, since they knew neither band; I had replied that it would probably wacky and a bit “Ornette-ish”. So I felt very clever when King announced that Bad Apple were going to play a set comprised solely of numbers by Ornette Coleman.

King explained that the only other time his two trios had come together was at a celebration of Coleman’s music to mark his birthday a while back, and that Coleman had been a big influence on all the members of both bands. That had certainly been apparent in the Happy Apple gig.

The music they played spanned Coleman’s career, including tunes from his collaboration with Pat Metheny, Song X. Fratzke played electric guitar throughout the concert, leaving Anderson to take the bass duties. Lewis switched to alto sax (Coleman’s main instrument; I was relieved that none of the band chose to emulate Coleman by trying to play trumpet or violin).

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It was very good: exciting, sometimes wild and manic, sometimes gentler. King surprised me with his more swinging style. The freedom was very much in evidence, but like Coleman’s Prime Time bands, they were rather funky too.

With Anderson centre stage, he and Lewis worked up a strong relationship – Lewis was as energetic as before, bobbing around as he blew his saxophone. Fratzke and Iverson seemed rather sidelined – they made key contributions, with some beautiful guitar and piano, but the trio of Anderson, Lewis and King seemed to dominate.

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