The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images


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Old Customs Hall
Tampere, Finland
October 31, 2003

There are many ways to reach an audience, and The Bad Plus has certainly tapped into a host of them. The press has given too much attention to their deconstructions of such pop classics as “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Heart of Glass,” and too little attention to their other strengths: painful honesty, sincere modesty, verbal rapport with the audience, muscular improvisation and storyteller’s verve. The latter qualities are what really connect with an audience, especially one as thoughtful and attentive as at the Tampere Jazz Happening.

Drummer David King describes the trio’s approach to composition as “cinematic.” His reference to the most influential art form of the last century couldn’t be more appropriate for The Bad Plus’ populist sound. Films work on the imagination by creating memorable images, ones backed by likable characters, hateful villains, bold emotions and the desire to create enjoyment. The Bad Plus creates such images.

As pianist Ethan Iverson informs the audience, “1972 Bronze Medalist” tells the story of Jacque, a French weightlifter who once won a bronze medal and is now retired, living in a seaside town and quite satisfied with his life. Over a stomping two-beat left hand pulse from Iverson, which mimics the swaying of Jacque’s medal as he walks to the beach, King and bassist Reid Anderson add subtle dynamic shifts while Iverson pounds out a high-register melody. Aside from how they change the dynamics, the tune differs little from its version on The Bad Plus’ These are the Vistas , and neither do the other tunes.

But The Bad Plus doesn’t want to write tunes for blowing; they want to create images that stay in people’s minds, and these images they present in concert, injecting them with subtle changes in mood and extreme dynamics. Iverson’s “Do Your Sums” begins with a rapid-fire unison intro then slides into a gentle interlude, then explodes with a manic volume that drives them towards the conclusion, at which point King breaks a drum stick and it flies high above the stage, only to drift down as silence ensues. The audience remembers the trio’s energy, life and message more than any musical information.

Whether whirling their way through Ornette Coleman’s “Street Woman,” releasing waves of volume and sound on Anderson’s “Big Eater,” or painting a parody of an American villain in “Cheney’s Pinata,” the trio maintains a telepathic communication, ears tuned to how best to develop their flexible dynamic mix.

In light of their goal to create cinematic images for people to immerse themselves in, deconstructing pop classics from Nirvana makes perfect sense. Cobain’s irresistible hooks-the mournful verse, tension-building bridge and dramatic chorus-allow The Bad Plus to treat them as discreet musical images, strung together for a rapt audience who wants to come along, to escape into a cinematic montage full of nostalgia, excitement, sentiment and unfulfilled dreams.

Complete coverage of the 2003 Tampere Jazz Festival...
Tampere Jazz Happening: Speaking a Universal Language
Wibutee in Tampere: Club Music and Jazz Collide
Erik Truffaz in Tampere: Fusion for the 21st Century
The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images
The Electrics in Tampere: All-Acoustic Electricity
Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation
Scorch Trio in Tampere: If Hendrix and Coltrane had a Love Child...
Uri Caine's Bedrock 3 in Tampere: Too Many DJs
Gnomus & Jukka Gustavsson in Tampere: The Wit of the Improviser
William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere
Samuli Mikkonen in Tampere: Composed Moods and Spontaneous Energy
Louis Sclavis in Tampre: Memories of a Naples that Never Was


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