A billboard outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport advises travelers to report "Suspicious Activity," a phrase which typifies the "paranoid security-conscious society in which we're now living," says The Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson. Struck by the advisory, drummer David King found in it the perfect title for the new Bad Plus album and the perfect metaphor for the group's new music.
"There is a sound in the middle of the three of us that is The Bad Plus," says David. On Suspicious Activity?, the group's third album for Columbia Records, that sound moves and grows in fantastic new directions, testing limits of what an acoustic bass-piano-drums trio can accomplish and what genuinely new music can actually sound like.
Pianist Ethan Iverson observes, "Our concept is far removed from the traditional roles of our instrumentation. The idea of 'piano-in-front-with-two-gentle-accompanists' is so completely foreign to what we do that it's simply…gone."
Suspicious Activity? is the first new Bad Plus studio album since the critically-acclaimed Give (released March 2004). In the meantime, the group has racked up some 250 performances on four continents, becoming one of the most telepathically tight and musically adventurous bands on the planet. Bringing its music to venues outside the traditional jazz concert circuit, The Bad Plus has drawn audiences from the realms of indie rock, techno and jam bands—the group's set at Bonnaroo being among one of the most buzzed-about events of the festival—and is on the front lines of an emerging new alternative music.
On Suspicious Activity?, The Bad Plus have again teamed up with Grammy-winning producer Tchad Blake, whose signature experimental sound has graced projects by Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Phish, as well as The Bad Plus's previous Columbia Records albums These Are The Vistas and Give. The new album was recorded "live" at Real World Studios in May 2005.
"The Bad Plus is controversial in jazz circles," says Ethan, "and one of the factors is the way the tones are recorded. We're not necessarily striving for the most natural tones possible; we're trying to get the best sounding record. We're a high impact band and Tchad gives us a high impact sound; he knows how to work the board to enhance our sound. I always wanted to play something new and it feels like I'm getting there with The Bad Plus."
Echoing the subversive quality of the music within, the cover art and inside booklet for Suspicious Activity? is by the acclaimed underground artist David Rees, perhaps best-known for his controversial comic strip "Get Your War On".