Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2009: Jimmy Cobb

The Bad Plus:
Pushing the Envelope

Written by:

The Bad Plus is one of those bands that’s hard to categorize. Their music ranges from straight-ahead jazz to rock to classical, sometimes in the span of a single song. They’ve gained a huge following over the past few years—audiences who are game for their playful but demanding performances are packing concert halls and clubs, keen to be surprised by the many unexpected twists and turns of their music.

The Bad Plus is a trio made up of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Paul and drummer David King. The individual members grew up in the American Midwest, and knew one another as teens but all pursued different musical careers until they were hired to work together as a trio in Minneapolis in 2000. They immediately gelled, and haven’t looked back since.

I saw The Bad Plus here in Winnipeg a couple of years ago, and it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. They played a wide variety of popular songs, classical pieces and originals, but everything sounded fresh. They were twisting together unrelated pieces to create something completely new. The music had moments of humor, seriousness, and drama—you never knew what to expect next. Their ensemble work was amazing. One moment I distinctly remember was a series of apparently random shots that they played in perfect unison for several minutes!

Recently the Bad Plus has taken another surprising turn, collaborating with singer Wendy Lewis on their new recording, For All I Care. The project was inspired by John Coltrane’s recording with Johnny Hartman. “Coltrane’s quartet had already developed a group language, and then they enlisted this incredible singer without changing the language of the band,” says King. “In that same sense, this is still very much a Bad Plus record. We just happen to have a great singer singing the songs with us.”

A lot of us are keen to hear The Bad Plus again at this year’s Groove-FM Jazz Winnipeg Festival—this time with Wendy Lewis expanding the expressive range. For the listener who is looking for traditional straight-ahead jazz, this might not be the best bet, but for anyone who is adventurous with an appetite for fun and exciting music, this band is an absolute must! I wouldn’t wait—this show might just sell out.

Simon Christie is studying trumpet in the U of M’s Jazz Studies Program.

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