The jazz trio has long been the minimalistic backbone of this fiercely improvisational art form. Usually consisting of stand-up bass, drums and melodies courtesy of a horn, piano or guitar, these three pieces usually take a balls-to-the-wall approach to reinventing and composing songs. Twin-Cities based The Bad Plus, while certainly a trio, has taken the all-too-familiar three player line-up to a whole other level, creating timeless musical adventures heavy with melody and rhythm and technically proficient in every facet. The Bad Plus makes jazz for people who don’t normally dig on jazz as well as dazzling those who hold the musical form dear.
Consisting of Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and drummer extraordinaire David King (I have seen my fair share of live musical performances and I can say without a doubt King is the most awe-inspiring drummer I have ever watched), The Bad Plus plays impeccable, razor-sharp jazz with a fine ear for melody and a daring sensibility not afraid to cover artists many jazz aficionados would consider snub-worthy. I would never claim to be an expert on jazz but I do listen to it quite often and find solace in the meandering notes and adventurous spirit of the art form done well. The Plus first caught my ear with a gorgeous rendition of Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I had never realized what a beautiful melody the song had until I heard Iverson’s unimpeachable piano playing on that particular piece. The trio does a great job of combining elements of avant-garde jazz with pop and rock sensibilities, covering artists as wide ranging and diverse as Nirvana, Aphex Twin, Blondie, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Queen, The Pixies, Neil Young, Rush, Black Sabbath and free-jazz master Ornette Coleman.
“Really, we’re just committed to the song,” bassist Anderson offered in a recent phone interview. “It can be a simple song or something really abstract but it has to have that clarity, that pop sensibility has to be there. We’re not part of some exclusive club. We’re just playing music because we connect with it.”
While covers have been an artistic mainstay for the band, the romantic detail and addictive gallop of their originals are also extremely infectious. There is a reason every time the trio plays New York’s legendary Village Vanguard (where they were first discovered by Columbia Records) the room is packed to the gills. Further more, the three members all contribute to the writing of songs and the creative direction they will take with each number. The band’s latest release which came out last Autumn, Made Possible serves as further proof these gentlemen are capable of delivering engaging songs with earnest heart and soul. On their eighth studio album the band pushes their usual modus operandi even further out of what is normally considered emblematic of the art form and dares listeners to partake in a sonic adventure. The band proves that the rules of musical convention are meant to be broken. Bold juxtapositions and a masterful sense of song, along with some never before heard synth flourishes make the record an instant classic.
“We’re really proud of the new record,” Anderson says. “It feels certainly as good as anything we’ve done before. We approached this record as more of a studio project. There were two things we were striving for: we wanted it to be studio orchestrated and at the same time not over the top. As far as playing those songs live, live is live, it doesn’t have to be the same. We don’t travel with any electronics. It’s just us acoustic.”
The last time the band came through Omaha they played with vocalist Wendy Lewis, whom they had released the spectacular record For All I Care which included soaring renditions of Nirvana’s “Lithium” and the Bee Gees “How Deep is Your Love” and also played an instrumental set of originals. This time around they will be performing a revamped version of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring,” a perfect tune for a city shaking the snow off their coats and preparing for warm breezes, bird calls and kinder weather.
“The Stravinsky piece was first commissioned by Duke University (where the band served as artists in residence in 2010 and 2011) and The Lincoln Center,” Anderson says. “The idea came up because we had played some Stravinsky in the past. It seemed like a good idea and it turned out to be a good idea. “Rites of Spring” did so much to influence 20th Century music and we always like to tackle long, iconic pieces of music.”
This week’s performance will start with the band’s reimagining of Stravinsky’s masterpiece and follow with the band playing originals and covers from their extensive catalog.
The Bad Plus plays On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on Friday, March 1 at 8 p.m. in the Scott Recital Hall. Tickets start at $40. For more info visit omahaperformingarts.org.