Challenging Convention: The Bad Plus

Lesley Mahoney
October 18, 2010
The Bad Plus gives a master class at the Berklee Performance Center.
Drummer Dave King
Bassist Reid Anderson
Pianist Ethan Iverson
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Known for deconstructed interpretations of modern tunes—from such artists as Aphex Twin, David Bowie, the Pixies, and Blondie—the Bad Plus challenges what you might expect from a jazz trio. But the subtly recognizable covers were absent when the group performed as part of a master class at the Berklee Performance Center on September 17.

The trio, composed of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King, stuck to their own compositions, apropos to their first all-originals album, Never Stop, released three days earlier. The group's stop in Boston—the class and a performance at the BPC later that night—was part of the 10th annual Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival.

The Bad Plus, which has been together for a decade, has a palpable synergy. "Probably the first time any of us played together, there was immediately some agreement on some of the parameters," said Iverson.

"We had a desire to have something that is good for us, and in principle, just good for music," said Anderson. "We just believe in the band ethos."

In between songs that gave way to rousing applause, the band members talked about defying genres, their own kind of riffing, and a commitment to individuality.

King on the musical conversation that happens on stage:

It's so important to leave room for people to have a dialogue. It's challenging the idea of the solo being something that's kind of propped up and being taken care of in a real tasteful, gentle way. . . instead we're interested in what can happen in some of these match-ups. Something amazing can happen sometimes if we all kind of know where we are and listen as closely as possible. That dialogue is super-important to us. There's no real leader on or off stage.

Anderson on the band's commitment to staying true to its own brand of sound:

We all made decisions in our creative lives early on that we would just play the way we wanted to play and embrace our own sound, sometimes to the dismay of people playing at the time. But we're committed to saying, "I want to make music like this." And when the three of us came together in this band, it was just understood. Everyone needs to be themselves and everyone needs to play what they want. That makes it pretty easy.

King on the blurred lines of genre:

We feel like this is the people's music. . . we don't see a line between instrumental music and pop music, not a clear line. We kind of approach it with a joy, with the idea that it's an attainable thing, not needing to know all the rules. We feel that this kind of music can connect on so many levels.

On maintaining individuality in jazz:

Iverson: We never thought it was just jazz. It's a whole world of music and culture. I don't think great musicians think about it [that way]: note for note, transcribing every detail, learning one solo really deeply. I think a lot of greats had to learn one or two solos.

Anderson: Everyone should go through devouring a language that turns you on. That can be a very healthy springboard to the nuances of your own sound and trajectory.