Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Bad Plus in Columbia

The Bad Plus, the jazz trio that doesn't act like a jazz trio, came to Columbia today for three shows. As if I needed more reason to like them, they reportedly drove through the night from Minneapolis to get here for the first set, a matinee.

Much has been said of this band's fondness for playing covers of rock tunes. Some critics have even labeled them camp because of their song selections. But if the definition of a great cover song is to outdo the original, then The Bad Plus have achieved greatness.

Their new release, For All I Care, features Minneapolis-based rock singer Wendy Lewis, whose voice fits nicely with the band. Their version of Nirvana's Lithium makes me respect the original far more than I ever did, and their take on Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb is both simple and stunning. They performed both of these in their first set today at Murry's in Columbia.

Perhaps their greatest achievement on the new record is taking a song that I never liked--Heart's Barracuda--and making it eminently likable. Not everything, however, works. Maybe their version of the Bee Gee's How Deep Is Your Love will grow on me, but I doubt it.

And while critics can say, "But it's not jazz!" no one can argue the musicianship of the band members. All three regulars--pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King--showed the room today that they can play with anyone, jazz musician or otherwise. King's drumming was particularly impressive. He worked every inch of the set, finding every sound possible.

It was heartening to see the crowd's respone: an immediate standing ovation with plenty of hoots and hollers. A jazz audience appreciates both technical facility and entertainment, and they got both today.