The Bad Plus-Austin American Statesman Review

Bad Plus

The Bad Plus (Austin Chamber Music Fest)

By Luke Quinton
Monday, July 2, 2012

You don’t hear a lot chamber music festivals with audiences hollering out requests, or men excitedly hooting “Woooooo!” after a piece. But then, Austin’s Chamber Music Festival brought in The Bad Plus.

And to play famed club Antone’s no less, where a crowd packed in to hear the jazz trio charm with favorites, like Aphex Twin’s “Flim,” and amaze, trampling through a host of brand new originals.

Not that the request-makers made headway. But there is so much to focus your attention on in each piece that it may be impossible for die-hards to leave disappointed.

You get a myriad of emotions in a Bad Plus show. There were urbane moments of Ethan Iverson’s tinkling piano riffs and drummer Dave King’s smooth brush work. And that’s where things started, in the slow and relative calm of a moody melody.

But it wasn’t long before they broke out the big thundering drums and scurrying bass and piano parts.

“The Empire Strikes Backwards,” has a three-note piano phrase that worms into your ear long after the show. The same is true for their take on Aphex Twin, or the band’s own “Never Stop,” whose addictive melody stayed fresh live, thanks to a slightly brisker pace.

Drummer Dave King’s “Anthem for the Earnest” was generously melodic, but its true source of entertainment lies in the stops, starts and changes in direction.

Improvisation has a big part to play, though you would have to know their catalogue inside and out to detect it. A beguiling impressionistic bass solo with Reid Anderson muffling every other note worked gorgeously against King’s soft brushed accompaniment.

It might have been nice to hear some Ligeti or Stravinsky (though Anderson mentioned something about “The Rite of Spring” being under copyright), but ultimately that’s beside the point. When The Bad Plus play Ligeti they make it their own, with their singular energy and sensibilities. In other words, let them play whatever they want.

Those who’d seen the trio play Bates Recital Hall in 2010 heard a handful of the same pieces at Antone’s. With such a deep catalogue, they might have benefited from a peek at their 2010 setlist. Then again, that was two years ago, and it all sounds new and fresh, every time.

And the energy in Antone’s was much more boisterous. Both performances dripped with intensity and (surprising) delicacy — and a bass that came through in the mix this time around. But the darkness of the club gave the crowd permission to hoot, holler and sway to a groove when it came.

“Plus,” in French, means “more.” So if this is bad, we want plus, plus, plus.

Austin Chamber Music Festival continues through July 15.

Luke Quinton is an American-Statesman freelance arts critic.

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