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Sunday, March 28, 2004

To the Bad Plus last night, at the Albright Knox' Art of Jazz series. We've been looking forward to it since it was announced last year, and they absolutely lived up to our expectations. I love piano trio stuff anyway, and these guys were all that the format should be: they played so well in unison that the sound was a unified whole-- it was sometimes difficult to tell if it was Anderson's bass or Iverson's left hand, and King's percussion swung like crazy. They were showmen too, with a lot of little moves that didn't distract, but underlined what fun they were having. Mostly new stuff, they didn't do the Nirvana or the Blondie covers, "Iron Man" was the encore. It was a crowd that knew the bad, which isn't always how it goes at these shows; when they started "Big Eater" it drew the sort of recognition applause the hit gets. I was a little nervous about "Iron Man" actually-- when I heard that it was on their new release my first thought was that it was a rather cliched choice for a band like this. My concern was misplaced: they used the riff as a launching spot for a series of inventive solos, mostly drums, that demonstrated how far you can go from one of the simplest vamps in blues based music. What was particularly notable live was the melodic creativity of bassist Reid Anderson's compositions. Turns out this is the second time we've seen him: when Claudia Acuna came through a year and a half or so ago one of the things I was struck by was the quality of her band. The CD she was touring to support featured a lot of name brand musicians-- Dave Holland, "Tain" Watts, and it didn't really capture what she did live. Anderson was the bassist we saw that night and the story we got last night was that he had gave the series promoter a demo of the music he was working on with The Bad Plus. Bruce Eaton, a guy with big ears, liked what he heard, and signed them up,gettingg in out front, the way he often seems to. As good a show as I've seen in some time, and I'd see them again tomorrow, confident that they'd do something I didn't see last night-- and if that isn't what great jazz is supposed to feel like, then I don't know what is.

We have seen some amazing stuff over the years at this series, but these guys vaulted right into the Hall of Fame. What is particularly great is that they seem like they may be able to keep on doing this, and being this good. That's hard to do in jazz-- the creativity part is exhausting, and it is hard to get the sort of financial support from the labels that allows artists to keep working and keep body and soul together. Claudia Acuna , actually, is an example: she has a new side out, but Verve has dropped her, and I very much doubt that she is able to afford touring with a full rhythm section, vibes and a trombonist these days. Too bad. I expect she'll be around for a while, but now she is burdened with the fact that she didn't break through commercially. The Bad Plus seems poised to avoid that fate. It's always interesting to see who shows up fothesese shows-- the base group of subscribers is always there, the hard core, but last night we saw a lot of younger people than is usual. Cover Nirvana (or the Pixies) and that'll happen. These guys know what they're doing, they play like crazy, and it looks like they are on for the long haul.

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