Finishing up their second year with Orrin Evans at the piano (replacing founding member Ethan Iverson), and on the eve of the release of their second album with the new lineup, The Bad Plus made a stop at the Hangar Theater in Ithaca. Previously declaring themselves the band that will Never Stop, they were now ready to Activate Infinity.
And why not? The music emerging from the trio, even after the change, and after almost two decades as an entity, is as potent and timeless as ever. Their healthy mix of rock, classical, pop, and yes, of course, some jazz as well, has a bit of something for anyone willing to listen. Hearing it performed live in an intimate setting with an appreciative and attentive audience, such as the case on this evening in Ithaca, is truly the ideal environment for such an endeavor.
The stage was warmed up with an opening set from The Long Now Trio, a local Ithaca band featuring guitarist Ryan Vanderhoof (founding member of the psychedelic rock band Akron/Family), Matthew Saccuccimorano on drums and Brian Dozoretz on bass, playing only their fourth performance together. It sounded more like four years together as they went on an improvisational adventure of their own, tangling cosmic guitar sounds with flourishing drum work in a quick but exciting 30-minute set.
The main course of The Bad Plus started innocently enough, with some soft and sparse piano. Gentle bursts of bass and brushes dancing along a bevy of cymbals soon joined the fray. The three disparate sounds slowly built in intensity, eventually climaxing in a complex three-part fit of triumphant chaos. The gentle easing into the set was a ruse, indeed the audience had just found itself caught up in an indescribably beautiful ten-minute whirlwind of sound. It was uplifting and exhilarating and worth the journey out on a Thursday night and the price of admission all on its own. It was Reid Anderson’s composition “Seams” and everything else was essentially on the house.
But the band still had over an hour more of tricks up their sleeves. They followed with Evans’ “Commitment” which ditched the subtle shifts in dynamics, choosing instead sudden shifts and jerks in a very dramatic and theatrical piece that had a bit of Broadway flair, with thematic characters and narratives shining through in the music.
Next was “Anthem for the Earnest,” a highly melodic energetic rocker that was go-go-go from the start and hardly let up for a breath. These three selections showcased all three members’ songwriting and the range and skills of their musicianship. It seemed they laid all the cards on the table so soon into the show, but each next piece was an adventure all its own.
The set mostly drew from last year’s Never Stop II record but also featured a few tracks from their new release, Activate Infinity, in the second half. “The Red Door” trended on the jazzier side of things, playing like a hyped up Thelonius Monk tune. On “Undersea Reflection,” each member took the task of rhythm and melody simultaneously and separately.
In its infancy, The Bad Plus made waves with their unusual cover choices and sprinkled them generously into shows and albums alike. But more recently, and on this night as well, it took until they were coaxed out for an encore, for a presentation of their classic cover of Aphex Twin’s “Flim” that turned into a Dave King drum workout and a the perfect cap to a wonderful night of adventurous instrumental music.
The Bad Plus don’t sound like anything from the past. They don’t really sound like they’re from the future, or even a representation of the present. There is a timeless quality to the music that just is. Their melodies feel like they will Never Stop being relevant.
Setlist: Seams (Anderson), Commitment (Evans), Anthem for the Earnest (King), Salvages (Anderson), Safe Passage (Anderson), 1983 Regional All-Star (King), The Red Door (Evans), Boffadem (Evans), Undersea Reflection (Anderson), Dovetail Nicely (King)
E: Flim (Aphex Twin)