live music

The Bad Plus, New Morning,Paris, October 16th

IMG_0275

To say that The Bad Plus has consistently defied expectations since its inception back in the 2000s is an understatement. When I heard that pianist Ethan Iverson was throwing in the towel for other equally exciting musical adventures, I have to admit my heart sank. Hell, the teenagerish fan in me thought that the world was really coming to an end (is it?) and it would all go downhill from there! The simultaneous news that Orrin Evans was stepping in somewhat alleviated the shock though. After all, I knew Reid and Orrin (may I call you by your first names guys?) go back a long time and had played beautifully together back in the day, particularly in Orrin’s band in the late 90s. And I knew that this momentous replacement would not dent my fandom in any major way. What I didn’t know is how much this change was the best thing that could ever happen to this band at this point of their trajectory.

I’ve seen The Bad Plus over a dozen times in the Paris area, in rainy open-air festivals, dim-lit jazz clubs, and nice venues like the New Morning, and never once have I felt that they were resting on their laurels. Sure, I am a biased fan but given how many times I’ve checked them out, my statistics are pretty reliable.

So, my girlfriend and I made it to our seats in the 3rd or 4th row about an hour early, fidgeting with an anticipation that can hardly be described. If my memory is right, the trio started out with a song called Seams, which closes the album Never Stop II. And right away, it all felt familiar and oddly new at the same time. This slow-burner has a sparse melody sitting over a beautiful chord progression, the perfect opener for the seamlessly constructed set that followed. A rubato theme stumbles forward with bass and drums providing contrapuntal foil. It wasn’t the easiest choice to kick off the concert but they made it happen. Geez, these guys can build drama from scratch. I can’t remember the exact sequence of songs that followed, but I know they pretty much covered the new album, with a couple of old songs mixed in for yours truly’s pleasure. Reid Anderson’s emceeing in French added a humorous tone that spoke to the fun they all seem to have in playing this complex and unique music. On this old favorite of mine composed by drummer Dave King, Keep The Bugs Off your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass (great title)- Reid soloed extensively and powerfully, making every note matter in Charlie Hadenesque fashion. As Orrin laid out, Dave punctuated his bandmate’s phrases with sizzling enthusiasm and a few vocalized “ha ha”(not sure how to transcribe this) before Orrin reentered to take the tune out.

Finding a replacement for a leaderless trio of this caliber has to be one of the most challenging things to do. This ideal replacement speaks to the musicians’ deep commitment to pursuing their art against ominous odds. It’s amazing to hear that this living organism withstood such a dramatic storm without a scratch. Musically at least. As much as I loved Iverson’s idiosyncratic style, Orrin brings something new and invigorating to the table without altering the essence of what this music is about. It was particularly moving to hear the pianist take on these old quirky Bad Plus songs, injecting his soulful groove-powered lines and still making it sound like The Bad Plus. You could hear the reverence for music he embraced as a listener a long time ago. He probably never would have thought that he would be part of the story many years down the road. The joy, the exhilaration was all palpable, the musicians sneaking smiles at one another, reveling in their newfound chemistry that yet seems to have been there forever. King’s arms flew around the drums in his signature octopus style but never overplayed. On the heaviest tunes, they all have each other’s back, dialed in, making sure that if they’re loud, the others are too. Astounding. By the time they got into Wolf Out, I could have howled my head off if it wasn’t for my natural timidity. As always, the trio shares composition credits equally, as demonstrated by Reid’s announcements between songs. Watching and hearing a band so dialed in to each other, so respectful of each other’s contributions to art in the moment is very uplifting. Reid Anderson’s Trace and Hurricane Birds were magnificent and showcased one more time his versatility as both a great bassist and composer. When the band came back onstage for the encore, they chose Everywhere You Turn off their 2003 album These Are The Vistas. Looking back and ahead to the future. One of the things I have loved from the get-go with this band is the joyful melancholia that radiates from the tunes. To me, it always feels like a comforting balm that says “it’s okay, we’re screwed, but, listen, we are going to be okay”. It’s not a bad feeling.

The Bad Plus has a new album out, Never Stop II.  Get it now. And go hear them live whereever they are.

Where it’s happening

 

Capture d_écran 2018-02-26 à 13.58.19

I woke up this morning (sure, around noon but I work nights, you know) and remembered a recent conversation with friends, which gives me a chance to drop a long overdue post on wellyouneedit. Ok, asked recently by longtime New Yorkers where to go hear some jazz in the Big Apple, I mentioned a few places, clubs and bars I’d heard of as well as the more hallowed historical venues. Ironically, I’ve never actually checked them out myself as I live in Paris, which also has its own jazz “scene”. So Smalls, Mezzrow, Fat Cat and the like are all pretty much good-sounding music fantasies in my mind, occasionally glimpsed on Youtube when nerding out on today’s musicians improvising after hours. To most people, including those who will half-heartedly admit they like “some jazz”, the music is mostly a defunct museum of long deceased people. Which is an interesting oddity as there are a lot more jazz musicians today worldwide than there were back in the golden age of jazz. The reasons they mostly fall off the radar of the cultural media are complex and difficult to pinpoint and I don’t want to get involved in this discussion.

However, I’d like to say this. The classic oneliner “jazz is at its best live” is still relevant today, and even more prominently I would say. In fact, it may be the only reason the music has survived and shape-shifted so much to this day. Because there is a slew of music lovers and performers committed to pushing the art form forward.

But going back to my New Yorker friends, I thought to myself, there is nothing really new about this. It’s always been hard to know where to go for good live music. Outside the well-advertised (not always advertised actually) top acts, catching a jazz show without anyone tipping you off can be challenging. You might see a familiar name in a leaflet or online magazine and decide to check them out, only to discover that the concert is cancelled or rescheduled. The music hides and its takes some tenacity to get anyone interested in looking for it.

Pianist Ethan Iverson recently spun off his popular and erudite Do the Math blog with a Do the Gig column (sign up here to receive the newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/ethaniverson) reviewing gigs happening in New York city. Here’s a screenshot I lifted from his blog. There are a lot of names I’m not familiar with but there are also big names that remind me how vibrant and diverse the music is. Given time and a little prompting from like-minded friends, I may engage in a similar endeavor some day, listing the acts that drift up on my local radar. Sometimes, you just have to get out – weather permitting – and hit the grimy streets like a hungry hound. You never know, you may stumble on something really, really good.

By the way, if you’re in town this Friday, our trio Fairly Wired will play at la Mairie du 3ème arrondissement, Paris. It will be cold outside. But we’ll make it warm inside.

Come out!

Info here:

https://fr-fr.facebook.com/events/145907389404023/