The Bad Plus in Pinhook, downtown Durham, October 25

The Bad Plus in Pinhook, downtown Durham, October 25

Last night at Pinhook in downtown Durham The Bad Plus offered a public listening session to an audience of forty-five rapt patrons who were kicking back in the dark, orange-lit lounge sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon and High Life missiles as well as bourbons/rocks.  Bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer Dave King played tracks in around-the-horn fashion three times, nine tracks total.  The results were lively and provocative.  The co-led collective was founded on music they loved, they said, no matter what it was.  I find their take on things to be insightful, deeply rigorous, and refreshing.  Here’s what they played:

1) Reid led off by playing a clip from “Eyes of the Heart” by Keith Jarrett’s quartet from the 1970s featuring Dewey Redman on saxophones, Charlie Haden on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.  There was discussion of Motian’s “subversive” drum work.

2) Ethan then played “Bemsha Swing” by Thelonious Monk’s trio from 1954 featuring Max Roach on drums and Gary Mapp on bass.  Ethan point out that both Monk and Roach were from nearby and again there was mention of “subversive” percussion.

3) Dave played “Street Woman” by Ornette Coleman’s 1971 Science Fiction Sessions.  The trio agreed that this was one of the “four or five most important records” around which The Bad Plus were formed and sustained.

So far, we’re on pretty solid grand for a jazz foundation, although each of these first three selections is fairly iconoclastic within the iconography of the leaders represented.

4) Reid’s next selection was “An die Musik,” a piece of lieder by Schubert sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.  I didn’t catch the piano player on this track but it could well have been this performance with Gerald Moore.

5) Something from Lyle Mays was selected by Ethan.  I didn’t catch which album the track came from but it sounded like it was from the 1970s, with lots of synthesized sounds.  One of the trio said it seemed like Mays and Metheny were staging a “big hair contest” between themselves back in this period.  The track provoked a lively discussion with the audience, with a few voices saying the track was lame, but others defended it, saying that if you listened to the entire album the melodies grew on you and stayed with you, which is not something that happens all the time with music.

Next, the tracks, already on the edge of the Jazz Museum comfort zone, went further out.

6) Dave played “Subdivisions” from Rush’s 1982 album, “Signals.”  Dave said that for him and Reid, growing up together in Minneapolis as teenagers, Rush was integral to “the nerdy inner world that led us to where we are today.  It was alien music.”  He said, “Their music was a catalyst to getting us thinking beyond the grid and confines of pop music.”  The odd and shifting time signatures were also influential.

7) Reid then played a tune from Richard David James, a.k.a. Aphex Twin, a pioneer of solo produced electronica.

8) Ethan played an abstract soprano sax “etude” from Sam Newsom.  This youtube clip isn’t the same tune or track that Ethan played, but it was in the same realm of sound.

9) Dave finished up with a track from Pixies, something off their album, “Doolittle.”  Dave told a story about wandering upon the TV show, Night Music, in 1989 and finding Pixies playing “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Tame.”  He said, “It was breathtaking for me to hear rock music played on more progressive terms like this.  It was iconoclastic but not as obvious as punk rock of the 1980s.”  Following threads as they do, The Bad Plus opened for the Pixies on a tour more than a decade later.  Pixies bassist Kim Deal told them, “I didn’t know jazz guys dug us.”  Dave said, “It was the first time we played in front of 15,000 people looking at us with blank stairs.”

All in all, just another night in downtown Durham, courtesy of Duke Performances wizard Aaron Greenwald.  The Bad Plus’s listening session took place about a block and a half from Pettigrew Street, where seventy years ago you could have heard Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, Peg Leg Sam, Sonny Terry playing Piedmont blues for tips on the sidewalks outside the football field sized tobacco warehouses and cigarette factories.  The old industrial empire that grew from the surrounding fields of North Carolina and Virginia, and built Duke University, is long gone.  But the long-struggling downtown is become more and more vital today.

The Bad Plus are in the middle of a year-long residency with Duke Performances.  In March the trio will offer a world premier of their arrangement Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Durham.

By the way, check out TBP’s new record, Never Stop. There’s a tune on it called “Bill Hickman at Home” and each time I listen to the tune – about a dozen times now – I expect them to bust into Monk’s “Misterioso” and they never do.

-Sam Stephenson

1 Comment

  1. 11/1 Media Roundup: SFJAZZ & The Bad Plus Said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

    [...] in March. The Jazz Loft Project’s Sam Stephenson also attended the listening session and provides another vantage on the JLP blog. Calling the group’s perspective “insightful, deeply rigorous, and refreshing,” [...]