in performance: the bad plus

The Bad Plus. From left: Dave King, Orrin Evans and Reid Anderson.

According to one of the producers of the Origins Jazz Series, the only problem in presenting the acclaimed jazz trio The Bad Plus in concert Sunday night at the Lexington Children’s Theatre were assumptions from unfamiliar patrons that the performance was going to somehow be a jazz program for children.

Sorry, kids. You were more than welcome to stay up and join the fun, but this was very much an evening of grown up jazz, a courageous and immensely listenable 90 minute set that delighted in deconstructing the standard design of the piano trio and, to a lesser extent, the very structure of The Bad Plus itself.

The show opening “Seams” set the evening’s battle plan quietly in motion by beginning with a slow, pastoral pattern from Orrin Evans. The pianist replaced Bad Plus co-founder Ethan Iverson at the onset of 2018. The contrasts between the two players were immediately placed on display. The “Seams” intro established a sense of dynamics the trio didn’t always choose to enforce in the past. Yes, Evans lacked a smidge of the wildness of his predecessor. Frankly, though, the earthy grace and general playfulness he brought to the performance, as suggested by the way his intro gradually brought bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King (the band’s other founding members) into the tune before letting the whole ensemble feel gently implode, more than compensated.

These quieter moments were quite striking, whether they came during the equally reserved sway of “Kerosene II” or the more ominous melodic flow of “Hurricane Birds.” But “Safe Passage” had the new Bad Plus offering a blast of vibrant ensemble energy punctuated by bright staccato stabs on piano from Evans and a percussive rumble from King that seemed to play tug of war with the melody. After three-and-a-half exuberant minutes, the tune said its peace and unceremoniously concluded.

All of these compositions came from the band’s newest album, “Never Stop II” and were penned by Anderson. But the cross-generational lexicon of The Bad Plus that won the Minneapolis band such a devout following with college-aged audiences (and largely filled LCT on Sunday) was addressed in very moving terms at the end of the evening with a cover of “Flim.”

The song, in its original form, was a relative obscurity pulled from a 1997 EP by Aphex Twin. But The Bad Plus made the tune its own on the 2003 breakthrough album, “These are the Vistas.” Evans remained faithful to the lyrical fancy of the “Vistas” arrangement, playing it almost as a children’s lullaby (what a coincidence, given the setting) with King adding a coda on a small, percussive wind-up toy.

But it was the lyrical innocence at the heart of the performance that was so gently overwhelming. It was a slice of welcoming comfort signally The Bad Plus had grown older but not entirely up.

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