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The Bad Plus: Drama, Joy, Humor, But Not Irony

By Published: September 17, 2007
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Songs: '1980 World Champion," 'Physical Cities" and Prog-Rock

AAJ: Well, let's talk about some of the tunes on the record. Let's start with the last song on the CD, which you wrote, '1980 World Champion," the latest in your series of odes to, ah, time-specific endeavor.

DK: Yeah [laughing], the athletic trilogy.

AAJ: I love this one, and if I heard it without identification I'd know it was a Bad Plus tune. It's sort of in this agitated, vibrating 4/4, I think, and when it explodes out of that into that epic phrase it's particularly great. You and Reid are especially together on this. Any thoughts?

DK: This was the conclusion of the 'athletic three." There's one on Vistas ['1972 Bronze Medalist"], one on Give ['1979 Semi-Finalist"], and this one. Basically, they're all kind of celebrations. This one really embodies the spirit of what the Bad Plus is trying to do—we're trying to celebrate progressive music in a way that's not looking down at our feet, or looking at charts all the time, or whatever.

This one has kind of a tube-y, going-to-church kind of thing. I actually played in a lot of churches growing up, so it was fun for me to connect with that kind of feel. And it's got that kind of triadic harmony I've been using for the whole trilogy, so it's all tied together, in a way. But on this one, Iverson plays that great stride, boogie-woogie style of piano. A lot of people think of him as this guy that's very influenced by all this contemporary classical music, which he is, but really the first music he played as a kid was boogie-woogie piano. He played that for years.

See, we've known each other since we were kids, so we know all these things about each other. So we kind him in this place to play that kind of style sometimes; I think he plays it so well. A lot of it was based on what I feel we do well at times, which is have a little bit of a sense of humor, but with a really direct focus on joy. The focus is on celebrating the music, and it's not meant to this tongue-in-cheeky thing; it's actually very earnest. It's really a celebration of someone's final victory, and it ties in with us sending this record out: it's kind of us being freed, in a way. It has that energy to it.

But it's a very celebratory vibe. We put that clapping in on his solo as an ode to Sun Ra, or something like that. So that's what that tune is. But it's a fun tune to play on the road. We have a blast with that song

AAJ: Well, I congratulate you on concluding your trilogy.

DK: Yes! It's done! He finally won. After celebrating bronze medalists and semi-finalists, I figured it was time to give one to the winner. We were celebrating the underdog for a while, and now it's just flat-out victory. We won one.

AAJ: Reid's piece 'Physical Cities" is one of three long ones he contributes to the record, and certainly has a progressive-rock element, speaking of prog. This goes back and forth between two sections which I'll call 'The Chase" and 'The Riff." 'The Chase" has those triplety melody figures over your almost Bill-Brufordy drumming and Reid's bump and run bass figures and 'The Riff" has that one-note staggered downstrokey riff which reminded me initially of Metallica, although maybe King Crimson's more accurate.

DK: Oh, Crimson, for sure. Reid and I discovered some of the more progressive elements of jazz through progressive rock as kids.

AAJ: You and me both.

DK: Exactly—for so many people of our generation, the door was opened by Yes, King Crimson, Rush, Bill Bruford's Earthworks, and shit like that. So this was definitely an ode to some of that period. We most certainly feel it would be very difficult to deny the very direct influence of prog rock—at least the musicality, if not the theatrics. Obviously, we're not dressing up as unicorns and poppies, or anything like that. But that Brufordism is in there, and that Alan Holdsworth-y thing is in there as well. That stuff is in Reid and me on some tribal level.

So Reid really wanted to jump in and write this kind of three-sectiony, almost prog-rock type thing, and of course it's got those signature Bad Plus-type of moments—stops and starts. One of the reasons the record was called Prog was that tune.

AAJ: This one seems pretty composed. Your drums have some freedom, and so does the piano, but it's something you pretty much have to play as is.

DK: Right. It's a sectional piece that exists to be a certain length, and we play within it, of course, but it's done very much in that tradition of—well, like you said, Crimson. You nailed it. Or early Genesis, where it goes, 'bah-da-doom dah da toom," and you can hear Peter Gabriel going over that. And it's a tune that's really smoking live; people like it. It's a fun tune to play live, because we do that long ending live, and it's that long figure that keeps going.

AAJ: The riff just goes, and goes, and goes.

DK: Yeah. It's wild; it keeps tumbling over itself. And then there's that big drum thing at the end. It's another tune that's just an ode to our vast influences. By the time we were into jazz—free jazz, modal jazz, sixties shit, bebop—we were in high school. But what led up to that was Reid and I playing Rush. Playing 'Spirit of Radio" in my basement.

The Bad Plus / Ethan Iverson

So we're really informed by that, and so are many people of our generation. From [pianist/composer] Vijay Iyer to all these other people, we're all coming from a lot of that place. It's a very natural, honest place to have come from—just prog rock and all that shit.

AAJ: And it's such a maligned genre of music. I never reached a point where I only liked it ironically. I always thought it was good.

DK: Oh, of course. I'm with you. And I think it's making a little bit of a comeback, with bands like the Mars Volta, that do these long song forms with vocals.

AAJ: Or Tool.

DK: Yeah, Tool has always had a prog edge. We feel very aligned like that. It's in groups like the Flaming Lips, too; there's that fantasia character is in a lot of the hipper music today. I was never one of those guys that bashed prog rock; I've always found it fascinating. I was also into punk, but I didn't feel the need to worry about that 'punk is a direct reaction to the excesses of prog" bullshit. To me, early Genesis is some punk rock! Check that shit out. That's this caterpillar running around, playing this noise with distorted organs. I think Ornette Coleman's pretty punk rock. There's a direct line between all that stuff and The Bad Plus, for sure.

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