Over the last ten years, the Bad Plus has established itself as one of the most daring jazz trios in the world. And in the decade that pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King have been together, they've proved they can easily maneuver through hard-hitting energetic songs, tone it down on ballads or turn other folks' songs inside out and make them their own. During the trio's first set on Sunday, there was all of that.
The Bad Plus eased into the set with subdued variation on Igor Stravinsky's "Apollo," anchored by King's adventurous yet nuanced drumming. With a brush in his right hand and a drumstick in his left, King lightly fluttered around the kit. It was quite the contrast to the heaviness of the second tune, "The Empire Strikes Backwards," with both King and Iverson pounding on drums on piano respectively.
The trio played four cuts from the its latest effort, Never Stop, its first album of all originals, released in September. King beat on a small tambourine during the bouncy, somewhat gospel-ized "Super America." Anderson's "Beryl Loves to Dance," a tune about a shy girl in high school, was one of the most energetic and frenetic songs of the night.
Iverson sounded gorgeous on the ballad "People Like You," which gradually built momentum until he was playing cascading notes high on the register. With its straight four-on-the-floor beat, the title cut steered into disco territory at times.
While Iverson said his composition "Guilty," from 2003's These Are the Vistas, was a blues cut, it wasn't entirely recognizable as a blues progression until Anderson took a lengthy bass solo. Later in the set, the Bad Plus did brilliant justice to Ornette Coleman's "Law Years" before closing the set with the super-vigorous "Big Eater," which might have been the set's highlight.
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After a standing ovation, the guys came back for a peculiar take on the standard "Have You Met Miss Jones." During the swinging take on the Rogers and Hart original, they kept switching the tempos, making it faster, slowing it down. There was a constant push-and-pull feeling that was slightly disorientating, yet it was fascinating how they were always in the pocket. It was just one of the many examples over the course of the set that shows just how well these three guys perform together.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: After seeing them six times, these guys never cease to amaze me. By The Way: The Bad Plus will play at the Telluride Jazz Celebration in August. Random Detail: All four of the trio's sets over Saturday and Sunday were sold out.
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The Bad Plus 12.12.10 | Dazzle Jazz | First Set Denver, CO.
1. Apollo 2. The Empire Strikes Backwards 3. Super America 4. Guilty 5. Beryl Loves to Dance 6. Thriftstore Jewelry 7. People Like You 8. Law Years 9. Never Stop 10. Big Eater
11. Have You Met Miss Jones