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The Bad Plus: Doing the Math

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The Bad Plus are one of the most important jazz groups of the past decade. Over the last eleven years, they have developed and re-developed a distinctive piano trio sound that draws influence from the entire jazz canon, as well as contemporary classical music, and modern rock and pop groups. Some of the artists they have infamously covered include Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Blondie, David Bowie, Queen, Tears for Fears, and Wilco.

The Bad Plus released their self-titled debut in 2001, although the trio members—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King—first performed under the moniker over a decade earlier, in 1990, in King and Anderson’s home state of Minnesota. (Iverson is from neighbouring Wisconsin.)

In the interim, Anderson and Iverson moved to New York, recording several albums for the Fresh Sound label, and King remained in Minneapolis, co-leading the free-jazz trio Happy Apple. Since the release of their debut, The Bad Plus have toured the world several times, released six more albums (with another on the way), and have been the subject of many a debate about what we as “jazz” musicians “can” or “cannot” do.

Winnipeg audiences have experienced The Bad Plus several times before, most recently in 2009, when they were touring in support of their For All I Care album. Keith Price and I led a quintet that opened for that concert, so I can say from personal experience that they are not only fantastic musicians, but also very friendly and accessible. They were simultaneously intensely serious about what they do (this much could be perceived just by listening to Iverson warming-up) and genuinely funny. In a way, this sums up their music: historically informed (and thus the product of earnest study), but at the same time seemingly irreverent (that is, complete rejecting dogma and the so-called “rules”).

For evidence of The Bad Plus’s knowledge and understanding of the jazz art form, look no further than Iverson’s blog, “Do The Math.” The blog features sociological articles and interviews with everyone from Keith Jarrett to Wynton Marsalis, from Billy Hart to Henry Threadgill. And these are not your typical interviews—these are well-informed, thought-provoking, controversial, and extremely substantial interviews. One innocent visit from a serious jazz fan is guaranteed to generate at least an hour of reading…

The Bad Plus will be performing at the West End Cultural Centre October 4. Don’t miss it!

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