Last year marked the release of a remarkable album by the Minnesota based trio The Bad Plus in combination with saxophonist Joshua Redman. Friday night found them onstage in Rockwell Hall’s Performing Arts Center playing for a nearly full house of enthusiastic folks.
On their own, the players had fairly full resumes in a number of different settings but there’s something about this lineup that makes it special.
While the trio – consisting of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King – have played as a unit since 2000, the addition of Redman to the mix makes this particular iteration special.
The Bad Plus repertoire is filled with open spaces perfect for Redman’s instrumental voice and the players take advantage of the options offered by the arrangements. There’s a wind-driven element of fire from the saxophonist that fits with King’s cyclonic pulse to drive the music forward over the deliberate phrasing of Iverson and Reid. I’m not sure I can describe in print just how formidable the ensemble has become.
Most of the material heard in concert comes from the aforementioned album but there were a few arrangements of earlier Bad Plus tunes that created space for Redman’s playing. The group opened up with “1979 Semi-Finalist” from its 2004 album “Give” and later included “You Are,” an Anderson piece from “Never Stop.”
While those tunes benefited from their re-creations, the most exciting material was stuff written specifically for the quartet.
In songs like Iverson’s “County Seat” and Redman’s “The Mending,” the players fired on all cylinders, with subtle interplay leading into sections where Redman and King had the freedom to roam, explore and wreak havoc with propulsive riffs. Iverson kept feeding the chords and Anderson, who acted as emcee for the evening, kept up the pace with fluid lines that darted from point to point.
“As This Moment Slips Away” was the third tune in the set and it was proof that The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman are capable of masterful playing. The melody floats around the rhythm, using the latter as a rock, deflecting the stream into a different direction – Iverson the maestro of directing the flow while Redman cruises like a kayaker navigating a run. The writing and performance were so natural in effect that, to posit another analogy, one never sees the seams a good partnership sews.
By the end of the evening, the crowd gave the group a well-deserved standing ovation, coaxing the ensemble out for an encore that summed up the entire evening and sent most of the audience out into the world refreshed by the artistry they’d just witnessed.
The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman
Friday night at Rockwell Hall, SUNY Buffalo State