Ethan Iverson - p (blog)
Reid Anderson - b
David King - d
[Yes, this post is almost a month overdue. Consider it a prelude to The Bad Plus's return to Belgium on the 15th. I'll be seeing Brad Mehldau that day, but you should go if you can.]
I bought a PlayStation 2 a while ago, just to play Guitar Hero. Passing in front of a second-hand video-game shop, I popped in on the off chance they might have something of interest. They didn't, but there was a book section in the back. So, instead of Fifa 2007, I walked out with Sartre, Proust and Boris Vian. The Bad Plus is a bit like that: first you hear about the Nirvana, Black Sabbath and Vangelis covers, then you find out that that's not really what they're about, at least not in a superficial way.
Perhaps it wasn't obvious with their first couple albums, but having "Street Woman" on Give, then a series of blog posts and, on a personal level, my very recent discovery of The Complete Science Fiction Sessions, have made evident how indebted TBP is to the Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden/Keith Jarrett American Quartet axis.
Given that (and taking other influences into consideration), it's not too surprising for one section of Dave King's new "My Friend Medatron" to totally draw up a new intersection of pop's teleological movement, the wheel-within-a-wheel rhythms of funk and the disassembling impulse of free jazz, like Julius Hemphill's "Dogon AD" or the Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Le Thème de Yoyo" before it. And it is as un-sellout as its predecessors (we can add On The Corner to the list), a point emphatically made as "Heart of Glass" (my favourite TBP cover) was torn to shreds: they aren't pandering. And somehow, this all goes well with the absurd tangents TBP like to go on, whether spoken ("We're big fans of disco... Especially roller-disco" prefaced the Blondie tune) or musical (the juxtaposition of two completely different uses of handclaps in "1980 World Champion").
While none of the new tunes jumped out and grabbed me quite like "Physical Cities" did a year ago, there were a number of really good ones. "People Like You" was a classic Reid Anderson ballad: a tender melody (suggesting that the title's "like" was a verb, not a comparison) and a steady crescendo from a spare beginning to a more emphatic climax, without losing a certain sense of drift, in the vein of "Prehensile Dream," the concert-opening oldie-but-goodie. Ethan's "Old Money" featured Reid in a different mode, as his solo started with vigorously syncopated arpeggios, wriggled into a funky single line and suddenly slowed for a poignant close.
Finally, as it was the eve of Reid's birthday, we (the audience) sang for him, to a very slow drum accompaniment that was kind of destabilising: I, for one, was never too sure when, or where, the next beat was going to land. A mini-taste of what it's like playing with Dave King, I guess.