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Suspicious Activity Indeed: The Bad Plus Live

Doug Collette By

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Irreverent and eccentric, The Bad Plus are a bundle of nervous energy when they play. Yet as this ever-so-intimate venue in the Green Mountains of Vermont, the trio entranced rather than repel by dint of their humor and imagination, not to mention just enough conventionalism to make their quirks that much more effective.

The early part of the September 30th set was akin to watching an aerial view of race cars, the three musicians—Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and David King on drums and assorted odd percussion (including children's toys)—jockeying for position, cutting each other off, slowing down and speeding up. Navigating their way through all original material, much of it from the newly-released Columbia album Suspicious Activity, almost even divided between the threesome, the Bad Plus almost but not quite seemed self-conscious about their adventurism, Iverson's deadpan delivery in keeping with titles of songs such as King's "Anthem for the Earnest and "The Empire Strikes Backwards.

Yet the Bad Plus are nothing if not savvy musicians, knowing full well that to defy traditionalism means less if you don't embrace it at lest to some degree, especially if it's on your own terms. Covering material by Bjork sent the sympathetic audience the dual signal that the band recognizes the value of outsider material, a message compounded when they slashed and burned their way through "Chariots of Fire, an almost defiant reading that sent ripples of recognition, laughter and admiration through the crowd in this tightly-packed, low-ceilinged venue.

It was at this point the trio reoriented itself to more regular rhythms and a more direct approach to melody, even to the point of a lush romantic piece lead by Iverson (who, interestingly, utilized an increasingly wider expanse of the ivories as the performance went on). Yet that was in contrast to the high-decibel hammering of King at various points, whose drumming also displayed a grasp of four-four that just skirted rock and roll. The Bad Plus would make great theatre in a larger venue where you can appreciate the distinct demeanor of the three members: Anderson seems as though he meditates as he plays while King's arms-akimbo style comes off a bit over the top or would if it were not for Iverson's straight-man persona.

Up close in the tiny confines of FlynnSpace, stadium-seating an all, nothing got in the way of the music and the set closed as it began, with the Bad Plus taking rhythms at an angle, almost but not quite embracing melody and in general having what can only be described as serious fun with their jazz. It's easy to see why they alienate traditionalists, but the three men who make up this band are only doing what jazz musicians have always done: displayed a healthy sense of open-mindedness about what they do and following suit in execution as well as conception.

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