The Story

The Bad Plus — a maverick, genre-bending piano trio originally from Minneapolis and consisting of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King — burst onto the scene in 2000 with their self-titled debut for the Fresh Sound label. Their irreverent, post-modernist interpretations of ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Know You” Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart’s 1934 romantic chestnut “Blue Moon” and Nirvana’s “Feels Like Teen Spirit” on that first album, all rendered with a knowing wink of irony, grabbed a new audience of millennial listeners hungry for something new and different. It wasn’t long before the group was packing New York City’s most prestigious jazz venue, the Village Vanguard. Shortly after, the major labels came calling and the group was instantly catapulted to a new level of visibility with the release of 2003’s These Are The Vistas on Columbia Records. The album was the listening public's first widespread opportunity to hear the band. Along with reprising Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” they covered Blondie's “Heart of Glass” and Aphex Twin's “Flim” with a new aesthetic described by Jim Fusilli of The Wall Street Journal as “a jazz power trio with a rock-and-roll heart.” In November 2009, NPR's “All Songs Considered” selected the album as one of the 50 most important recordings of the decade.

The Bad Plus followed that initial success with 2004’s Give, which included radically reworked renditions of The Pixies’ “Velouria,” Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Ornette Coleman’s “Street Woman,” and 2005’s Suspicious Activity, which included their tongue-in-cheek cover of Vangelis’ theme from the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. They continued their post-modernist interpretations on 2007’s Prog, which included new versions of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” and on 2008’s For All I Care, which included inventive deconstructions of Wilco’s “Radio Cure,” Heart’s “Baracuda,” The Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” Nirvana’s “Lithium” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” Their seventh studio album, 2010’s Never Stop, was the trio’s first to consist entirely of original compositions. 2012’s Made Possible was their first to incorporate electronic instruments while 2014’s The Rite of Spring was an ambitious interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral composition from 1913. They followed that triumph with 2014’s Inevitable Western and 2015’s The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, which teamed them with one of the most outstanding tenor saxophonists of their generation. 

With 2016’s It’s Hard, the trio returned to its proven formula of deconstructing pop tunes with clever renditions of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” Kraftwerk’s “The Robots,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.” The group’s latest offering, 2018’s Never Stop II, is the first album by The Bad Plus to feature new pianist Orrin Evans, who took over from founding member Ethan Iverson in 2017. Evans brings his post-bebop sensibility to the upstart trio in their first visit to the Exit Zero Jazz Festival.

The Sound

With Orrin Evans now in the lineup The Bad Plus continues to push forward, presenting concise, captivating songs along with cleverly-reconstructed covers. As Rolling Stone wrote of Never Stop II: “The album couldn’t sound more consistent with the core Bad Plus M.O., which has always been about putting distinctive, memorable songs first and letting them guide the band’s exploratory, idiosyncratic improvisations. First and foremost, this is still The Bad Plus. No other band in the world sounds quite like this.” Or as All About Jazz put it: “These songs exemplify what many listeners have grown to love about the band over the past 17 years. The tunes on Never Stop II are well-written and earnest, showcasing a band listening and improvising with one another, affirming that the group has not yet run out of meaningful music to make.”

When & Where: Saturday, November 9, It’s A Breeze/ Hawk Haven Vineyard Stage, Cape May Convention Hall, 12:00pm

Michael Kline