Jazz made possible

The Bad Plus trio brings its go-with-the-flow musical offerings to Tel Aviv.

Jazz made possible (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jazz made possible
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When The Bad Plus burst onto the global jazz scene 13 years ago, opinions were somewhat divided about the nature of the trio’s output. There were the “jazz police” brigade who staunchly protect the roots of the genre and who believe that, as Irving Mills wrote and Duke Ellington played, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Then there were the members of the other camp who are always looking to break new ground and believe that jazz should constantly spread its ethnic wings and embrace contemporary energies. When The Bad Plus bring their eclectic, go-withthe- flow musical offerings to the Reading 3 venue in Tel Aviv on December 3, it is a sure bet that the audience will include jazz fans of all ages and varying tastes.
While all three group members display a love of all kinds of musical styles and mindsets – from Bach to punk rock and much between – they are also proficient in the jazz idiom and its roots and can swing as hard as the next jazz guy or gal. The threesome comprises pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson who also lends his capable hands to synthesizers and electronics, and powerhouse drummer David King.
King makes no apologies for his and his pals’ multifarious approach to music and says he has no time for the purists, adding that creativity requires input.
“I say that nothing is pure, and the quest for purity is futile,” he declares.
“We are meant to mix and struggle and live.”
If that is so, then King’s struggles began a long time ago. Now 43, he started drumming more than 30 years ago and says he had a percussive nature from the word go.
“I have been playing drums since I was nine years old. I like to hit things!” That may seem like an early start for a drummer, but King’s path to musical exploration actually began a couple of years beforehand, and on a different instrument, which he still plays today.
“I play piano, too,” he notes, adding that his keyboard technique and sensibilities find their way into his principal instrumental avenue of expression. “The piano was my first instrument, and I think it informs me a lot.”
The band put out its first, eponymous, album in 2001 and has released nine more since. The latest offering, Made Possible, came out last year and, no doubt, will form the core of the band’s Tel Aviv gig.
Given their ages – they are all in their early 40s – it is only natural that King, Iverson and Anderson should feed off the musical zeitgeist of their era and, even when they are playing seemingly straight ahead jazz, there is often a rock-oriented drive behind the sounds which, particularly from King, exudes the sense of a somewhat visceral underbelly. King’s percussive attack is front and center on all the tracks on Made Possible, and there is even some occasional electronic drum lacing.
When one thinks back to the pioneers of modern jazz, such as envelope-pushing drummer Max Roach, who was responsible for extricating the role of jazz drummer from that of the traditional timekeeping anchor into a more melodic and polyrhythmic function, one wonders how, for example, King’s electronic enhancements sit with that mindset. The Bad Plus drummer says he isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before.
“I don’t play electronic drums much – only on two songs in The Bad Plus’s history,” he notes. “I think it fits with the trajectory of creative music just fine. [Now 71-year-old jazz drummer] Jack DeJohnette played electronic pads on [avant-garde jazz pioneer] Ornette Coleman’s masterpiece “Song X” in 1985, so I’m not doing anything that hasn’t been addressed long ago. Drums are toolsfor music.”
The rock element in the trio’s art – whether openly rhythmic or more in terms of spirit – is not an entirely new idea in the jazz world. Swedish jazz trio E.S.T. began churning out decibels galore in 1993 and continued doing so to great effect until the untimely death of pianist-band leader Esbjorn Svensson. King says that, despite some musical parallels, he and his cohorts did not follow in their Swedish counterparts’ high energy footsteps.
“I’ve never listened to E.S.T. but I’ve heard they were good,” he declares.
“We are part of the same generation, so it doesn’t surprise me that we would be influenced by similar things.
I doubt the timeline of our bands coincides with being influenced by each other. I think we were both fully formed before we ever knew each other existed.”
Although The Bad Plus was founded in 2000, all three members had shared the same creative space for some time before that. They first played together in 1989 but were largely otherwise individually engaged until they eventually got together on a regular basis. King says they were always looking beyond their comfort zones and that they share a rebellious streak.
“We grew up together and bonded over being outsiders,” he says.
They have certainly constantly looked outside the jazz standard domain for raw material. Over the years the band has recorded versions of compositions from an eclectic range of sources that take in grunge rock band Nirvana, English electronic music artist Aphex Twin, 1970s New York punk outfit Blondie, Pink Floyd, 1980s English New Wave band Tears for Fears, Queen, Black Sabbath and Stravinsky.
King says he has always kept his ears open for any sounds, regardless of their genre definition.
“I listened to all kinds of music as a kid. All music is my calling – I hope!” Iconic jazz drummer Paul Motian has also been an influence on King and his pals, and Made Possible closes with Motian’s “Victoria.”
“Paul had a big influence on us, maybe the biggest. He influenced us to think modernly,” he says.
The Bad Plus gang has performed here several times in recent years, playing at the main summer and smaller winter versions of the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, and always an elicit enthused response.
“I found Israeli audiences wonderful and big-hearted,” says King.
For tickets: www.eventim.co.il