A Purist’s Worst Nightmare

by Christopher Toenes on December 23, 2010


the Bad Plus (photo: Cameron Wittig)

From a firm grounding in jazz, the Bad Plus have playfully forayed into rock, classical, and pop—they’re a purist’s worst nightmare. On the jazz end, the trio has staked out a relatively un-hip territory that begins with the mid-70s fusion veers all over the place from there. On the pop end, they’ve become known in the mainstream for arrangements of songs by grunge titans Nirvana, electronic whiz Aphex Twin, and prog-rockers Rush; not to mention Interpol, Blondie, Black Sabbath, the Pixies, and many more. In this recent post from SFist, pianist Ethan Iverson expounds on this unruly mixture of influences and reference points; a topic explored further on his blog, Do the Math, where he compiled his list of the best jazz from 1973-1990. The list is revealing, with its heavy coverage of the period after jazz’s 1960s heyday (especially the last two decades), featuring key players like Keith Jarrett, who Iverson interviewed for the blog. From Herbie Hancock to Steve Lacy to Tim Berne, it’s a great read. What albums would you add to it? Which ones would you cut?

Ken Vandermark (photo: Seth Tisue)

Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King round out the omnivorous trio, which approaches jazz from a different perspective than many of its contemporaries, with touchstones outside of the critically bulletproof early eras of jazz. For instance, in Chicago’s contemporary jazz circles, movers and shakers like Ken Vandermark appear most interested in free-jazz, collaborating with European players such as Peter Brötzmann. Wynton Marsalis, who makes Iverson’s list, leads an educational and traditional near-movement in New York, sticking to the New Orleans/American origins of jazz, and generally withholding consideration of anything after Miles went fusion. The Bad Plus’ embrace of the piano-based work of the later period’s notables, like Jarrett and Paul Motian, speaks to their unorthodox perspective, which should come in handy when they premiere their new arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s notorious modernist ballet Rite of Spring at Reynolds Industries Theater in March.

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