An A+ for the Bad Plus

The Bad Plus - 3/15/08

It was quite a big weekend for the Bad Plus – in addition to a two-night stand at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia, the Midwest-based jazz trio made an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien on Friday. I caught them for the early set on Saturday (the 2nd night), and if there was any post-Conan letdown it was not apparent. The band played a tight set that showcased their strengths – chops, melody, and humor.

The night started with the familiar “Let Our Garden Grow” before moving to a newer composition from pianist Ethan Iverson, “Who’s He?”, which was capped off nicely by a fiery drum solo by Dave King. King showed right away that he is not only the pounding heart of the Bad Plus, but one of the best drummers around today.

In a set full of high points, one of the more noteworthy was the group’s performance of the Reid Anderson-penned “Dirty Blonde”, an energetic number that showcases the bassist’s knack for melody. Anderson again stepped to the fore later in the evening with “Giant,” from the group’s latest album (Prog). It’s a slowly unfolding song, and one that demands and rewards close attention. Their rendition on Saturday was nothing short of a revelation.

Of course, no Bad Plus album or show is complete without at least one cover tune, and the audience at Chris’ was treated to two from the Prog album. First was the Tears for Fears hit “Everybody Wants to the Rule the World”, succinctly identified by Iverson as “a song from the “˜80s.” The Bad Plus treatment of the song arguably improves upon the original, as it gives the already strong melody much more breathing room.

The second cover was the crowd-pleasing Rush standard, “Tom Sawyer”. While the group’s jazz rendition doesn’t differ too much from the prog rock original, it’s such a great song and so well-performed that it can’t help but entertain. The set wrapped up in style with the final entry in the Dave King sporting trilogy, “1980 World Champion”. It’s a high-energy song anyway, and brought a fitting end to an evening full of fun and musical fireworks.

“Let Our Garden Grow”
“Who’s He?”
“Dirty Blonde”
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
“My Friend Mutatron”
“Cheney Piñata”
“Tom Sawyer”
“1980 World Champion”

(one encore was performed, but the name escapes me)

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