A sweet walk a little breath a little talk, the evening sets into the bed sheets of the night’s shadow, nestling, cuddling, feeling close to her and bravely embracing the path ahead. With a spry sentimentality and concerted compassion, the three brothers carry forth. One with an explosive rhythm, head held low and driving the team forward. Another letting the ground sink into his feet, easily connecting to the gravity of his soul, the very bones he is made of and stays in. The last whistles as he goes, light upon his toes and loquacious in manner, so many voices to choose from to greet the setting sun. The glow is red as it falls upon the brothers in all their nakedness, exposing them to the every element of their machine. Nothing but their instruments in tow, the Bad Plus carry forth into unchartered lands and don’t look backward or forward, they like what it looks like going not seeing.
Simple and unassuming, bassist Reid Anderson nuzzles close to the six feet of wooden masculine force with feminine form and cautiously takes the mic. Ethan Iverson, introverted and intellectual, politely takes his posture behind the piano unaware of what Anderson will say tonight. The thunder and the lightning force, the shatter of a window or the caress of a raindrop upon a weeping willow, Dave King leans on his drum kit with a smile and playful curiosity, affirming the words that Anderson speaks. Verbatim, their personas in the spaces in between echo with their marks as musicians.
“We have a new record out, on the world tour now for that record, well a small part of the world at least,” smirked Anderson, an easy sway of lightness in his vernacular gait which would define the rest of the evening. “Well, we’re happy that this is part of it, that’s for sure. Our new record is called ‘Inevitable Western.’ The next tune is from it, by Ethan Iverson, ‘Self-Serve.’”
The orchestration is nothing short of magical, the breadth of tenacity unencumbered by fear or anything resembling inhibition or hesitation, the musicians understand impeccably the motion of each wave and catch every single one perfectly, each crash of the cymbal an applause to the sinuous curving of the piano, a freedom kept within a twirling world of fine wordplay with lips closed. There is a veritable feeling of dreaming with your eyes open present in the musician’s interaction, as if they are watching everything, responding perfectly, while living in their own dream world and making their own reality. A verisimilitude that is very similar to no ‘tude heretofore expressed in jazz music, and I have yet to hear something like it live in my decade of loving everything jazz.
Jumping out from the cradle of jazz in Louisiana only two nights before, the boys were roped and wrangled to the Aztec Theatre thanks to the diligent work of John Toohey and Arts SA, who sponsored the event.
“This is our first time in San Antonio,” said , who ran the mic all night on behalf of the group. “But it won’t be our last.”
While the understated fellows from Minneapolis normally don’t head down to Texas – a grand portion of their world tour was spent in California most recently and they will journey over to the East Coast and Western Europe next – perhaps the band’s 10th studio release, featuring an old western montage and a picture of Big Tex on the back, had some influence on their decision to visit the Alamo City.
While the average listener probably hadn’t heard most of the album, released only a month before the show at the Aztec on Sept. 30, this didn’t keep the group from tapping into its richness for nearly half the performance. Aside from “Self Serve,” the ensemble dug into the ethereal and winding “Gold Prisms Incorporated,” “Do it Again,” and the eerily buoyant and asphyxiating “I Hear You.”
Blue lights dim and set forth the droplets of aqueous awe, which is wholly not awe-some but awe-full in the abundance with which they leave you soaked with the understanding of the music, the sounds of nature hear before you. You find yourself in the middle of an underground cavern, a subterranean seascape that is glistening with the rainbow scales of luminescent fish that dart about in its darker parts. But more rightly the light finds you in this Lacuna, untouched by so few, save for those brave enough to go underneath the first valley side where you don’t’ know how long it is to the other side but you must find out and there in the middle you find the light and the cavern goes for miles more and you understand the sensitivity of yourself and…
Entranced and impressed no doubt before, when Anderson announced the “greatest hits portion” of the evening, the audience bristled and brimmed with excitement, ready to release their intellectual understandings of this complex layer of sound and more organically unfold and break out into the music.
And so it was, a three song set that was an undeniable highlight of the evening. Explosive solos from each player, expressions of humble mastery of their instruments made the crowd entrapped, there was no getting out of that sound. Personally the magnanimity of King’s sound on drums rattled me the most, how it just grabbed you unapologetically and kept you close to its breast.
The drummer has an impeccable intimacy with his instrument, giving the heart from his chest to each downbeat and offbeat and beat around the bush. He’d swallow you up in the raucous symphony of 250 bpm fills and then simultaneously close his lips so you couldn’t hear a sound, but the breeze of a feather in an autumnal wind. A crowd that had been mostly composed in the midst of performance could hold it back no longer and let out bursts of euphoria as King and Iverson reached their golden peaks, staring into the horizon of their musical invention-endless for as far as the ear can see.
As the evening rounded out, Reid become more spacious in his banter, allowing the audience to chime in a little bit more. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” they shouted. “Ironman” they begged, beseeching the musicians to harness their gift for wielding common rock songs into jazz masterpieces. “I am Ironman…” Anderson sang in an oddly ephemeral tenor reminiscent of some Paul Simon melancholy, giving the audience a laugh.
Anderson continued on singing as Iverson tickled the keys in a sentimental montage to nothing, laughing along with King at Anderson’s playful improvisation (while well executed, definitely organically unfolded in the spirit of the evening). “Get along little doggie, on the prairies of Texas…we have CDs for sale you can’t miss them as you exit, we’ll come out and say hello after the concert so please don’t go…”
The crowd got their Ironman and even autographs from the gentlemen in the lavishly decorated anteroom to the theater, where they stood humbly behind those CDs. “Oh I don’t have a credit card, bummer,” I said as I placed the CD back on the table. “Here, please have it, on us,” drummer Dave King said kindly as he placed it in my hand. I said thank you and gave him my card and told him I’d write a good review of the band. Dave, if you’re reading, thank you for your generosity, and for sharing your gift with the Alamo City.