The Bad Plus – Rough Trade NYC – November 21, 2016
Over the course of their 15-plus-year career, the Bad Plus have played in nearly every conceivable New York City venue: the Village Vanguard and the Jazz Standard, sure, but also The Bowery Ballroom and Prospect Park Bandshell among many others. So, although you don’t often see a grand piano, let alone many jazz trios, at Rough Trade NYC, it’s not surprising that the Bad Plus eventually were slotted to play there. Coming off their recent album, It’s Hard, consisting entirely of cover songs, many of them from the contemporary rock and pop canon, seemed like a good time to start. Their two-set show on Monday night stood on four tentpoles from the new LP—four covers that showed the range and creativity that would shine through in any setting.
The Bad Plus take a cover song like a blank sheet of paper and start making cuts into it to create an elaborate, unique snowflake. For one group to adequately cover music as varied as Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Barry Manliow’s “Mandy,” Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” would be very impressive. For a piano trio playing a rock club to do it, all the more amazing, each song recognizable only in its base parts, the group otherwise tearing at each composition’s fabric, finding patterns and beauty where it didn’t seem to exist in the original, often to stunning effect. But if the covers were paper snowflakes, the original Bad Plus material was some sort of four-dimensional origami, intricately folded artworks, dynamic and shape-shifting. The opening “Prehensile Dream” was a subtle slow build, pianist Ethan Iverson repeating a beautiful riff until quiet became loud and pretty became intense, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King providing an awe-inspiring crescendo.
The highlight of the first set came with the closing “Seven Minute Mind,” complicated rhythms hidden beneath an undeniably funky bass riff that may have required basic calculus to follow completely. “Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass” was rollicking blues that revealed multiple parenthetical diversions, eventually giving way to a great tangential bass-and-drum solo. Each song had its own unique feel and sound, all tied together with the band’s wit, talent and strong emotional core. The respectful but enthusiastic crowd was treated to one more cover for the encore, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” which, under the eager scissors of the Bad Plus, became a thrilling exercise in rhythmic experimentation. For one night at least, for the Bad Plus and the roomful of fans, Rough Trade NYC felt just like home. —A. Stein | @Neddyo