With Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass, and Dave King on drums, The Bad Plus make their Jazz at Lincoln Center debut on April 12 _13 in The Allen Room with special guest guitarist Bill Frisell. They'll surely add new dimensions to JALC's 25th year anniversary celebration.
Theirs is truly a unique approach and sound, often described as avant-garde jazz mixed with rock and pop influences. "It is ultimately jazz, but we're not afraid of the influence of rock. We should've made up a name for it when we started," Iverson says with a smile. "Someone said we're avant-garde populists, which was pretty good. What's really important is that we're a band. A lot of jazz groups are so-and-so's quintet, or quartet or trio. A crucial part of our development as musicians is that we're a unified sound, the sound of the three of us together."
Iverson, Anderson and King first played together in 1989 and formed The Bad Plus in 2000. Anderson and King are from Minnesota, while Iverson is from Wisconsin. "Reid and Dave have been playing together since they were 13 years old so the band goes back about 20 years at this point," says Iverson.
He explains that playing together for so long has helped them establish a true band sound. "The emotions are very important to us. It's important to connect. It takes both the writing and the performance to bring out the emotions. We bring it to life.
"We definitely go for big gestures and I keep both of my hands pretty busy most of the time," Iverson continues. "We listen very carefully. We're interested in grand gestures. Sometimes jazz can be a repertoire of comparatively intimate gestures, but we're interested in getting as big as possible."
In the January 2013 DownBeat feature on The Bad Plus, drummer King says, "For those contrasts to work the individual elements have to be very clear. That's very important to this band. Monk worked the same way; he had clarity of melody, clarity of hook, clarity of rhythm. His songs weren't blowing vehicles but something stronger. If you're an improviser, it's important to be informed by all the music of your generation. It's to your disadvantage to ignore it. And not just the music of your youth, but also the music of your adulthood." King added his observations, "I used to ask myself, 'if there's a piano solo in a trio, would it be acceptable for me to wail on a floor tom? In Ornette's [Coleman] music, I heard the idea that everyone is throwing down without being polite or rational all the time. That's what we aim for."
Joining The Bad Plus is guitarist Bill Frisell, who performed with the band this past summer at the Newport Jazz Festival. This concert is their New York City debut together. "He's a big influence on us, first of all," Iverson says of Frisell. "He's someone we studied when we were coming up. In high school we bought his records and we loved him. For me, I especially love the work with Paul Motian and Joe Lovano. That's probably one of my favorite groups. It is easy playing with him because we always studied his music. He can play out, but so can we. That's the avant-garde part of it."
As far as the trio's evolution over the years, Iverson says, "Hopefully we've gotten better and hopefully more subtle. I think the first time we played a gig together I felt something like 'this is new, this is new music, let's keep this up' and that's the way they felt too."
Iverson and The Bad Plus are thrilled to join in the JALC 25 year anniversary celebration. "It's great to be here at Jazz at Lincoln Center," he says. "The Allen Room is a great room and I think Jazz at Lincoln Center has proven to be a place for a musician to evolve, so it's great to get a gig and be a part of that team."
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.