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Arts Festival Review: The Bad Plus

Arts Festival Review: The Bad Plus

Review by Nick Tipping

The Bad Plus
Wellington Town Hall
Thursday 28 March

The Bad Plus have been heralded as the creators of a new jazz piano trio sound. With its crowd-pleasing mixture of humour and a high level of energy, their music defies characterisation as it crosses stylistic boundaries - merging indie-rock with acoustic jazz instruments, and the anarchy of free jazz with precisely constructed arrangements.

One of the hallmarks of the Bad Plus is their treatment of popular songs. This can take the form of a relatively simple arrangement (Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”), or a deconstruction (“Life on Mars” by David Bowie, which closed out the first set). However the bulk of their music is original, and all three members contribute equally to the repertoire.

Their performance on Thursday night at the Wellington Town Hall was a showcase of the Bad Plus style. All of their albums dating back to 2001 were represented by at least one tune. On numbers such as “1972 Bronze Medallist”, “Rhinoceros is My Profession” and “Mint” pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King provided an almost constant interplay, at times creating a wall of sound that threatened to overpower the sensitive bass playing of Reid Anderson. It is a shame that jazz events have to be scheduled in venues with unsympathetic acoustics - it was often hard to distinguish between the left hand of the piano, the bass, and the drums as the energy level rose.

King in particular propelled the band with an almost hyperactive energy. Even during the few down-tempo numbers he was in perpetual motion, drawing a range of sounds from his kit using all available tools. With a wide grin on his face he was the extroverted star of the show. Iverson, whose playing showed a Brad Mehldau-like ability to manipulate rhythm, showed the same sense of timing and improvisation in his laconic introductions between tunes. Bassist Anderson, well-known in his own right in New York circles, was given a few chances to show the sense of melody for which he is known, particularly in his soaring introduction to “Giant”.

As a whole the trio pulled off countless astounding feats of synchronisation, turning on a dime to make instantaneous changes of time, tempo and feel. This is obviously a well-rehearsed and polished band. Yet their programme lacked the variety of which they are capable- tunes were either high-energy or quiet and introspective, with nothing in between. The constant energy carried over from song to song, until it became predictable; and combined with the poor sound quality this took the gloss off what was otherwise a convincing demonstration of musicianship.


The Bad Plus on the Arts Festival website (includes audio samples)

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