Music News & Reviews

Unconventional swing: Lineup change a Plus on trio’s new album

The contradictions and colors of The Bad Plus surface in the opening of “Hurricane Bird,” a serving of melancholy penned by bassist Reid Anderson that kicks off the trio’s new album, “Never Stop II,” which hits stores and streaming Friday.

The music swings, but not in a conventional way. The piano trio sound moves briskly. The musicianship is sharp, with a clipped precision in the rhythmic flow established by Anderson and drummer David King. The murky lyricism will be familiar to anyone who has followed The Bad Plus over the past 18 years, even though there is a dramatic new element to the band. More on that later.

As you digest the trio sound — the playfulness of the piano leads and the more ominous expression of the rhythm section — it seems altogether European. Wrong. The Bad Plus hails from Minneapolis, a fact that is apt to leave even avid jazz devotees scratching their noggins.

Then there’s the title: “Never Stop II.” So it’s a sequel? On paper, it is. The first “Never Stop” was released in 2010. It was the trio’s first recording of all original material, eschewing the blend of traditional and contemporary works (meaning a stretch from Rodgers & Hart to Nirvana) that have made The Bad Plus a cross-generational jazz delight through the years. But the similarity ends there. “Trace,” one of the new album’s highlight tunes, uses an almost child-like piano line as its main theme before splintering into Thelonious Monk-style modal mischief and an almost metronomic drum pattern. It settles into the static quality of a click track before King switches to a regally funky backbeat.

So what’s the secret weapon? What makes “Never Stop II” sound so much like a Bad Plus record while distancing itself from everything the band has recorded up to now?

The secret is that for the first time, the trio has had a personnel shift. Out is pianist Ethan Iverson, who announced his intention to leave last spring. His final performance as a Bad Plus member came as 2017 drew to a close. With his departure imminent, Anderson and King recruited pianist Orrin Evans. The latter’s playing is lighter and perhaps more fanciful than that of his predecessor, as evidenced on “Boffadem,” an Evans original that balances stately cool with the bell-like animation of a toy piano to nicely extend an already rich-sounding (and richly defined) instrumental voice.

All of that results in a new beginning for The Bad Plus, a band that, more than ever, sounds warmly familiar yet so wondrously foreign.

The Bad Plus performs Jan. 25 at Live at Ludlow Garage, 342 Ludlow Ave. in Cincinnati (8 p.m.; $20-$45). For tickets, go to Liveattheludlowgarage.com or call 513-221-4111.

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