Good chemistry is hard to come by, especially in the jazz world. Every successful jazz trio starts off as a blind chemistry experiment: add equal parts piano, bass and drums. Stir gently. Observe. The chances of obtaining conclusive results are typically slim; however, there is nothing typical about Reid Anderson, Dave King and Ethan Iverson, founding members of the decades-long, boundary-pushing cooperative, The Bad Plus.
“The three of us had a natural chemistry from the beginning,” Anderson told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the band’s return to Tel Aviv for a show on May 6 at the Barby Club. “But of course, playing together for 18 years unleashed a lot of music. What developed from that, you can’t get there any other way.”
Anderson (bassist) and King (drummer) have known each other since junior high school. In 1989, Anderson – a then college freshman – met pianist Iverson – who was still in high school at the time – and invited him to jam in his parents’ living room in Minneapolis.
“That basically led to nothing,” the veteran bassist confesses. “Fast forward 10 years… we had all been out reading different groups, writing music, developing as young jazz musicians and we thought ‘What would happen if we got together?’”
All three budding musicians were already fans of each other’s projects at the time and occasionally collaborated with one another, but it was only after deciding to play a few exclusive trio gigs that The Bad Plus was born.
Anderson reflects “We immediately knew that we had something that was unique. We were all on the same page about wanting to create an actual cooperative band. We saw it as an opportunity to commit to the long run and develop our voice along the way. We had visions for the future: a group sound and group music.”
The Bad Plus’s collective identity strayed from the usual jazz trio format, which generally casts the pianist as frontman. Their roles as three equal contributors formed the basis for a wildly successful, homogeneous solution – no leader too acidic, no follower too basic. From the band’s rock inspired Black Sabbath and Nirvana covers to their individual genre-defying compositions flaunting a triad of strong, yet harmonious personalities, the trio hit the ground – or more fittingly, road – running in 2000.
Since the band’s inception, they have racked up an impressive live performance count (approximately 160 shows per year, adding up to over 2500 shows to date), earning themselves the unofficial “road band” title.
Unfortunately, as the adage goes, all good things must come to an end. Anderson and King were thrown this curve ball in the spring of 2017, when Iverson decided to leave the group.
“It was definitely a mutual feeling that things needed to change,” Anderson chooses his words wisely. He admits that they really considered ending the band at that point, but ultimately changed their minds. “We had spent 18 years building this thing and it’s this huge part of our lives, so Dave and I decided there was no reason for that to stop.”
The duo’s hard-headed persistence is reflected in their first studio album without Iverson (their 13th overall). Aptly titled, Never Stop II is a daring collection of coverless compositions introducing long-time friend and pianist Orrin Evans.
“We had discussed getting somebody else before,” Anderson shares. “One way or another, we knew something like this was eventually going to happen. Orrin was the one person that we returned to without fail. He was the obvious choice and fortunately, his response was an immediate yes.”
The Bad Plus have played a handful of shows in Tel Aviv, with appearances at the Red Sea Jazz Festival and the Jerusalem Jazz Festival (organized by Avishai Cohen, who is a good friend of the band). But their May show will be their first here sporting the new trio.
“Music aside, I am most excited to eat amazing food, hang by the beach, and devour hummus from Abu Hassan,” he jokes, clearly coming to do the White City justice.
When asked how he feels his Israeli fans will respond to the new makeup, Anderson responds, “I’m not worried. I am confident that the music that we’ve built and our philosophy behind it is strong enough to carry through and disprove any doubtful people. We’re performing music from the record, but also music from our entire body of work, including older music. So, this is very much a continuation of the old as we ride into the new.”
Since the release of Never Stop II, the boys have spent the year touring in their usual fashion, and the audience response so far has been nothing but positive.
“The best compliments that we’ve gotten over the last year are: ‘It sounds different, but it still sounds like The Bad Plus’ or ‘I was worried, but that was fantastic!’ That’s absolutely what we wanted to achieve because Orrin is a very different player, and, of course, if one third of the band is really different, it’s going to sound different.”
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