The anecdotal information I could gather about The Bad Plus before attending their gig at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on July 27th suggested a crossover act. A couple of people had mentioned their cover of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World.
But as is stated on the band’s website “the deconstruction of songs from the Pop/Rock and R&B Worlds” is merely “an aspect of their roots” which is revisited on their latest CD, It’s Hard (2016).
The majority of the songs played on this date were originals and, I would say, firmly located within the contemporary jazz idiom. There were frequent changes of tempo, tonal dislocation and a full house enjoyed the work of “a group of passionate collaborators with no single leader”, as the band calls itself.
Pianist Ethan Iverson seemed to have equal technical ability in both hands. He never appeared to be under any mental or physical strain, yet his left and right hands worked independently, weaving chromatic lines or playing chords with one note ‘wrong’, or a semitone above or below the conventional. This provided an element of humour, as in the crazy version of Mandy, as made famous by Barry Manilow.
David King was situated just a few feet away from me on drums. His commitment was total from the outset, yet the playing was at times very quiet. He led the tempo shifts and atonal group climaxes ferociously.
On bass was Reid Anderson, the group’s spokesman and equal contributor to the original compositions which made up the bulk of the set.
Having had my expectations thoroughly disproved by the performance, I was a little disappointed by The Bad Plus’s latest album It’s Hard. Granted, the arrangement, playing and indeed the artwork are all brilliant.
But one potential drawback of recording or performing cover versions, however creative they may be, is that if the listener was not a fan of the original, it’s difficult for them to be a fan of the cover. Another potential pitfall is that the song is so well-known and well-worn, you just can’t get any more pleasure from hearing it.
It’s Hard, however, is a great artefact and I’m glad to have it. I’m looking forward to getting to know some of The Bad Plus’s previous 13 albums. And Ronnie Scott’s is luxurious, but at the same time totally reverent towards the music, with every seat facing the stage and every encouragement given to subdue one’s mind and appreciate the work of the great artists on stage. I wish I could say the same about every venue.