The new Bad Plus album doesn’t hit stores until September 25, but if you live near Durham you can cop it early at the venturesome jazz trio’s pair of Motorco shows on Sept 21 and 22. Circumstantially, Made Possible harks back to 2005’s Suspicious Activity? Both records were recorded outside the band’s native Minnesota and both feature only one cover, which is notable for a group that made its name on muscular acoustic jazz versions of rock and pop songs. The similarity ends with Made Possible’s blending of synthesizers and electronic percussion with the acoustic palette of Ethan Iverson’s piano, Dave King’s drums, and Reid Anderson’s bass. We recently spoke with Anderson by phone to learn more about the new record, the upcoming premiere of his first evening-length work, and the status of On Sacred Ground—the group’s epic retooling of The Rite of Spring—since it premiered at Duke Performances last year.
The Thread: There are electronic synthesizers and drums on Made Possible—are we talking electronically treated drum pads or drum machines?
Reid Anderson: There are drum machines, synthesizers, and samples. There’s some electronic drum pad stuff that Dave played live, and then there are drum machines that I added.
Are you the driving force of the electronic side of the group?
That’s fair to say, yes. It’s something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. A lot of my personal time away from the band is spent on electronic music. It’s just something we felt like it would be interesting to try and bring into the band. It’s not done in a really overt way; we didn’t make an electronic music record. But it’s sort of orchestrated by these various sound elements.
Made Possible, On Sacred Ground, and The Rough Mixes—your own new evening-length work—all integrate electronic sounds with acoustic instruments.
In the first movement of On Sacred Ground, we recorded it and then rearranged it with some effects and electronics, but the bulk of the performance was the band playing. But yeah, we’re definitely sort of starting to experiment with this stuff. We have a collective interest in making different kinds of records every time out. We have added other bits of sonic candy to records over the years, but this is the first record we’ve made with a more involved production in mind from the beginning.
Were there any precedents where jazz meets electronic music that you had in mind?
To be honest, not really. We didn’t want to create a record we couldn’t reproduce live, and we’re not bringing electronics with us live. So we wanted to try and make a record that had these extra elements but still maintained the integrity of the three of us playing acoustic instruments. We tried to balance this fine line of making the electronics integral to the music without making them essential, I guess.
So did Ethan Iverson play any synthesizers in the studio?
I did all the synthesizers and stuff. Ethan’s not sitting there like Rick Wakeman with a big bank of synthesizers. [Laughs]
The only non-original tune on the record is Paul Motian’s “Victoria.” Can you talk about what he meant to you and the Bad Plus?
He is really one of our biggest influences. His playing alone really changed the way we thought about music. Starting from his time with Keith Jarrett and then through his own music, especially his trio with Joe Lavano and Bill Frisell, he had a really big impact on us. He’s also somebody we got to know a little bit and played with some in recent years. He was sick in the hospital during the making of the record and passed shortly, so he was on our minds and we wanted to make a tribute to him.
Your website says that these songs were less road-tested, more open to interpretation, when you entered the studio. What’s the story there?
It’s hard for me to make a blanket statement, but there were certainly some cases—a song of Ethan’s we’d been playing on the road, but didn’t see a way of replicating when we got into the studio. It didn’t seem like it would be interesting to listen to divorced from the live setting, so we had to concoct a new way of presenting that music and it turned out to be really interesting. The integrity and the structure of the songs were there from the beginning—we didn’t make editorial decisions in the studio—but certainly the emotional arcs and so forth were played with after the fact.
Can you tell us about The Rough Mixes, your own first evening-length work, premiering in St. Paul in December?
It’s going to be with some members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Jeff Ballard, the great drummer. It’s basically a chamber music piece—two violins, cello, drums—with electronics and video. I’m actually just going completely nuts working on this music right now. First of all, that’s a lot of music to come up with, so I’m really working hard at making the whole evening interesting and trying to do something personal. Also, I really think the holy grail these days is to incorporate electronics with live musicians, so this will be my sort of first major statement in that arena. I’m performing all the electronics. I’m thinking of this piece in terms of autonomous elements and the kinds of spaces that are created when they overlap, the kind of harmony that can exist between what are ostensibly independent elements. Almost like a society.
What’s been happening with On Sacred Ground since it premiered at Duke Performances? Any plans for a recording at some point?
We’ve played it a fair amount—in Israel, in Ireland, outdoors at Lincoln Center last month. That first performance was pretty intense, trying to take in this massive piece and the weight of it. It’s been fun to get more comfortable with it and feel like we can relax, almost listen to our own performance a little bit. We keep talking about a recording, but we’re just going to have to see. It’s definitely on our minds.
MADE POSSIBLE MINI-DOC: