Jazz Appreciation Society
The Bad Plus - Bimhuis ( Amsterdam)
With The Bad Plus, a band returned to the Bimhuis that is enjoying great popularity there, and with The Bad Plus someone returned, after Donnie McCaslin, who played on David Bowie's Blackstar: guitarist Ben Monden.
Since the departure of Orrin Evans, the pianist who replaced Bad Plus member of the first hour, pianist Ethan Iverson, The Bad Plus no longer exists as a trio but as a quartet. With the piano exchanged for guitar and saxophone, this obviously has consequences for the sound. More than in trio formation, the rhythm section of bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King forms the foundation of The Bad Plus, where Chris Speed's saxophone and Ben Monden's guitar add a layer of bromide brass and atmospheric strings.
As usual with The Bad Plus live, the drums are more at the front of the mix than on record and, more so than before, this is an added value over their studio counterpart. With all the instrumental excellence, also in quartet form, The Bad Plus live is actually Dave King plus backing band. King, who single-handedly can drum a full evening's programme, is accompanist and soloist in one, preferably at the same time. In completely authentic, organic fashion, King, pounding on cymbal, percussion and snare drum, refers to jazz and rock greats before him, from Elvin Jones to Keith Moon. He handles stick and jazz broom as if talking to himself and communicating over long distances. The Bad Plus Plus live is, as Reid Anderson remarked after a scorching performance of Sick Fire, song from their latest album: "Just another day at the office for Dave."
The most important question was whether The Bad Plus live would be as much of a sensation as a quartet as they were as a trio.
With his pronounced playing on the double bass, Reid Anderson refers to the most illustrative examples in jazz history, Charles Mingus to name but one, yet it was a rock musician who made him reach for the bass. After hearing Rush's Geddy Lee, Anderson knew he had found his instrument.
The most important question was whether The Bad Plus would be as much of a sensation live as a quartet as they were as a trio. As a trio, piano, double bass and drums made maximum use of the aural space provided by that set-up. For their live performances, the songs on record were the grid on which monumental improvisational sessions were built. Where as a trio, The Bad Plus' live exertions could take the music to hallucinatory heights, as a quartet, The Bad Plus sounds a bit more reserved, a bit more conventional. This has largely to do with the saxophone and guitar which, more than Iverson's piano, take a subservient stance.
Chris Speed's sax, pushed back into the mix, draws melodic, bare lines over the dry acoustic foundation laid by double bass and drums.
Whereas Iverson's piano provided more clarity of sound, was more pronounced, in rhythm and in melody, displayed more orchestral ambitions, and, in its most evocative moments, went on musical strolls that touched on everything from 19th-century virtuosity to 20th-century avant-garde, from Liszt to Art Tatum to Ligeti; saxophone and guitar linger more in the decorative. More blister packaging than depth. Speed's sax, pushed back into the mix, draws melodic, bare lines over the dry acoustic foundation laid by double bass and drums. In addition, Monden's guitar hides too much behind a thick layer of delay, making his sound often too undefined to really impress. A more direct sound, without reverb would have been better - one thinks. A bit more Angus Young. It would have provided the rhythm section, in which the bulk of ideas are coming from King's drums, with a more equal partner. It would have made The Bad Plus, the quartet, a band as exciting as The Bad Plus was as a trio.
Also in their new line-up The Bad Plus live is still an experience of stature. Comments and criticisms aside, they mainly arise from the high expectations the band has raised with their history of live shows, they can also be dismissed as splitting hairs in the context of the amount of listening pleasure, this performance by The Bad Plus was once again one in the outer category. It was good and beautiful. Until next time!
On Blue Monday 2018 the Jazz Appreciation Society saw the light of day in bar RADIJS in the Amsterdam Westside. RADIJS (radish), place of conception, vegetable with a bite, an icon that we use on this website (wholly arbitrary) to express our appreciation for records and concerts.
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