The Bad Plus
In 2018, when pianist Ethan Iverson was playing the final gigs as a member of the Bad Plus—the piano trio he formed with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King eighteen years earlier—Giovanni Russonello of the New York Times wrote, “There have hardly been any jazz ensembles with a stronger collective identity, or more longevity. Perhaps only the Modern Jazz Quartet outstrips them. Like that quartet — and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, in other territory — the Bad Plus developed a devoted following, while reflecting a cultural moment.” The trio had managed to create jazz that reached younger listeners through its repertoire and collective identity. They reinvented contemporary pop hits, but the trio never watered down its approach, instead trusting in its internal rapport and the way it operated as a rock band while embracing the fundamental conventions of modern jazz.
The group retained its identity when Iverson was replaced by the magnificent Orrin Evans, a pianist with a much different sound and background. At the same time, Evans began asserting himself in the trio, which pushed the group’s sound in exciting new directions. Last year Evans himself stepped away, but this time Anderson and King decided to shake up the Bad Plus in a big way, bringing on two trusted colleagues with whom they’d already forged strong connections: reedist Chris Speed, whose excellent trio features King, and guitarist Ben Monder, who had played in Anderson’s quintet two decades earlier.
King and Anderson wrote all of the music on the new quartet lineup’s eponymous album, leaving the new members to find their way within the densely arranged, hard-driving material. Rhythmically, there’s no missing the granite-hard attack forged by King and Anderson, but Speed and Monder have generated a new sound that’s sometimes more aggressive, with overblown tenor and distorted guitar, but the emphasis on how hooky melodies snake and shimmy within dense harmonic frameworks preserves the band’s ultimate legacy. Considering the artistic potency of the new lineup, it’s only a matter of time before they’re exploring new terrain together.