Monday, October 19, 2015

The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman: A more than workable fusion of star players visits the Palladium

The Bad Plus blazed new trails in the genre of the jazz piano trio. Despite fundamental contributions of bassists and drummers to many great ensembles over the years, the focus had always tended to be on the pianist.

Similarly, if you put a high-profile horn into the mix, the tendency was to see it as the So-and-So Quartet, with So-and-So being a significant saxophone or trumpet player. Touring virtuosos playing with local rhythm sections reinforced that image.
Brother act: Iverson, Redman, Anderson, and King.

It's not surprising that Joshua Redman's association with the Bad Plus has resulted in a redefinition of this kind of quartet. In its appearance Sunday evening at the Palladium, the supergroup displayed its sturdiness resting equally on four supports — each of which has a distinct identity that's reliably blended into an ensemble presentation.

Bassist Reid Anderson delivered laid-back program commentary and, near the end, an improvised song resting upon his band-mates' notion of music from ancient Rome (a salute to the Palladium architecture). It was a high point in the cozy, effervescent rapport the band established with the mostly young audience.

There were several old Bad Plus favorites in the set list. Every time Redman fitted in perfectly. Among those I was familiar with, "Dirty Blonde," a Reid Anderson churner, sounded even better than the original, with a scorching, inspired Redman solo.  But isolating such moments misrepresents what the Bad Plus/Redman is capable of.

Why? Because every time you hear something remarkable from one player — whether it was Redman, Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, or drummer David King — it seems nestled in a four-way conversation. This was true even when one or more players dropped out for a while,  as in the Redman-King duel during "County Seat," a rollicking piece signaling its rootsy atmosphere with a yodeling tenor sax at the outset.

The concert opened with another piece from an early BP album, King's "1979 Semifinalist," then moved to a free-jazz excursion on "Faith Through Error." It soon became evident that Redman's facility, his command of the entire compass of his instrument, was capable of matching the range of any one of the Bad Plus players. Anything he played indicated the readiness of his protean style to be more than adequate for the band's breadth of expression, from an almost mystical lyricism to the most torrential outpourings four such adept players are capable of.

Iverson's embedded knowledge of both the classical and jazz piano traditions allows him to work in the most arcane melodic and harmonic inspirations, and everything makes sense.  Anderson also has a firm grasp of melody, and he's comfortable being independent rhythmically while always placing something complementary in the texture. King is that rare animal — a relentless groove merchant who is also a percussion colorist.

I remember when I first heard "Big Eater" (from the early "These Are the Vistas" CD) in concert, which feasted on its quartet expansion Sunday.  It was at Indy Jazz Fest, when Iverson introduced it at Military Park as the Bad Plus made its Indianapolis debut. He gestured toward the line of food vendors just outside the performance area and alluded to their appetizing temptations, which he intended to yield to.

The Bad Plus, despite the trio's aura of eccentricity, gives the impression in performance of being at home anywhere, even in the lofty glitz of the Palladium.  "I didn't know the Romans had put up buildings in Indiana," Anderson quipped near the end of Sunday's set. Maybe not, but it was "Veni, vidi, vici" for the Bad Plus/Joshua Redman on a bright fall evening in Carmel.