The Bad Plus Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Burlington VT February 16, 2013
The Bad Plus' appearance on The Flynn Mainstage illustrated how much progress the trio's made since earlier appearances in the much smaller FlynnSpace. The surprising number of empty seats as the evening progressed hinted the performance bordered on the underwhelming, but that was a passing sensation as the concert progressed.
The trio's half-hour jaunt through Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," though ostensibly the feature of the concert, ended up being simply a precursor to a handful of originals, in which pianist Ethan Iverson
took the technical expertise they devoted to the classical piece and made it the means to an end of more open-ended improvisation.
The end result was music actually more vivid than the preceding presentation, even with its video augmentation, which proved to be distracting when scenic images or pure color gave way to dancing figures. While (impressively) enacted live in time with the playing, they nonetheless conflicted with the attendees' concentration on what bassist Anderson later termed 'hitting just the right notes.'
There was the sense that the real emotion with which The Bad Plus imbued the Stravinsky piece was a fierce sense of discipline by which it kept rein on its naturally improvisational will. The Bad Plus wasn't exactly hamstrung within the confines of the famous composition during the early part of the evening, but certainly exhibited only a fraction of what makes this trio so distinctive. Like so very few ensembles, Iverson, Anderson and King are of virtually equal skill and imagination, a dynamic that serves to inspire them rather than cause friction.
The sense of freedom the trio so relishes was palpable on originals such as "Re-Elect That" and "Seven Minute Mind," both selections from their most recent studio album, Made Possible (eOne Music, 2012). The individual musicians' idiosyncratic styles of playing meshed in an ever so fluid give and take, and they now eschew playing up their eccentricities (as they once did to such a fault); King snapped the snares on his drum at one point, but called no attention to it with any histrionics. Likewise, Iverson became so caught up in his playing on "Wolf Out" that it became an un-self-conscious physical exercise for him, in stark contrast to the cerebral restraint he devoted to the earlier sections of the set.
Anderson's witty intros to the tunes, combined with earnest expressions of gracious gratitude offered to an audience passionate out of proportion to TBP's final numbers leavened the mood as the unfortunately abbreviated nine-minutes concluded. Yet The Bad Plus radiated such a deceptively unconventional approach to its art that the post- concert Q&A might well have been considered an extension of the show itself.