It's fun to hang out with The Bad Plus. Its members perform clever jazz remakes of mainstream popular standards and '70s progressive rock, but the result isn't kitsch — it's also serious music. I like to think of The Bad Plus as a piano trio that's taken a massive dose of "The Clear." There's substance to it.
The Bad Plus, which includes pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, shows little interest when asked to define a style.
"We hopefully sound like ourselves, and continue in the tradition of jazz, which is really a tradition of people sounding like themselves," Anderson says.
As for the cover material, the reworkings reveal more drama than irony. Songs by Queen, The Police, David Bowie, Black Sabbath or Tears for Fears offer perfectly natural connections, not pleasantly novel contrivances. Authenticity, intent and improvisation matter the most.
"It's an expression of your time and place, and that's certainly something we're very aware of being honest about," Anderson says. "Our own time and place as music-makers."
If you think jazz smacks of elitism, then you haven't given The Bad Plus a spin. And if you are a jazz elitist, then check out the Iverson original, "Mint," written for the trio's latest album, Prog. You'll find echoes of pianist Bud Powell's signature "ta-da" from "Un Poco Loco," even though the group's identity bears little to no resemblance to bebop.
"People are going to listen to jazz because it's good music played with passion, played with a sense that this is music for the listener as well as for the performers," Anderson says.
Drummer David King says it best: "Share the joy of what you're doing with your audience. People have lost sight of the fact that the great jazz musicians were great showmen. Bring it. Share the joy with the people that have taken the time to come and see you."