A great cheer went up from the fans of the contemporary jazz world today as the virtuosic Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and David King of The Bad Plus finally found a collaborator that can keep up with their intensity and creativeness.
The Bad Plus always have done their best work as a trio, and as much as Iverson’s melodic and interpretive piano playing really stood up as a leading voice on it’s own, the Bad Plus still found themselves struggling, especially in their more experimental works, to find a something as expressive as, say, an accomplished saxophonist or vocalist to front the group. They’ve dabbled with the latter with 2008’s All I Care as they collaborated with vocalist Wendy Lewis, but Lewis struggled to match the intensity of the band behind her and the record ended up sounding half-baked and disjointed. So, like a great producer without a rapper, or an excellent instrumental funk/soul band without a leading lady The Bad Plus continued along through their next 4 records as a trio. Sure, they continued to thrive and expand upon their own style, but it was almost to a point of becoming stale.
By the time the third track of this new LP starts, with the original ‘Greasy G‘, Joshua Redman, is clear that The Bad Plus may have finally found the Scofield to their Medeski, Martin, and Wood. As the ‘County Seat’ begins with Redman’s frantically layered soprano saxophone, the tune flawlessly transitions into an equally intense solo from Iverson before reverting back again to give Redman a few bars. The whole thing is such a force that before you’ve noticed the head coming back in, the song is over, transitioning perfectly into the album’s first ballad and a Joshua Redman original, ‘The Mending’.
Whenever I hear a collaboration this well matched, it’s hard for me to imagine that they hadn’t thought of getting together before. These guys had been contemporaries for so long that there must have been a jam session along the line somewhere where songs like “Lack the Faith but Not the Wine” were either conceptualized, or written in full, then re-imagined when schedules lined up enough to facilitate a recording session. Tracks like “Friend or Foe”, another Redman original, seem like such a great fit for everyone in the band that it almost feels like they’ve been working together for years.
The cohesion that this group possesses is without parallel, especially for a collaboration as seemingly fresh as this one. When this record ended, I immediately had to look up tour dates to see them live, and even though I found that it’s a 5 hour drive to do so, I still may end up at Maisonneuve Theatre De la Place Des Arts on June 28th to see this in person. I can only hope that this partnership lasts long enough so that I can see them do this again.