Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bad Plus @ Chris' Jazz Cafe 3/28/2009

Saturday night in Philly. The L-shaped Chris' Jazz Café is packed, with the unfortunates, including 2 friends and yours truly, parked in the smaller horizontal part of the L. It’s the third of 4 shows for The Bad Plus at this venue. Friday’s two shows were similarly full, but the band seems none the worse for wear. Ethan Iverson, splendiferous in his sartorial appearance led the group out to the stage, which is parked at the vertical and horizontal juncture of the L. He sat at the piano, caught the eyes of Mr. David King, the linebacker-sized drummer, and the nod of Mr. Reid Anderson, the reedy and bearded bass player, and then launched into "Variation d’Apollon", a selection from their latest release, For All I Care. The band was as tight as their CDs documented, but much more lively than their recorded output reflected. Mr. King was an eternal motion machine, a fact that, from our vantage point, was evidenced by the amount of times we were able to espy his furiously flying wrists and hands extending into our view deep in the lower bowels of the L. The sound of the band luckily bounced back into our area and was loud enough to stifle the din of the waiters preying on the clientele. The band covered some of their older material, including Suspicious Activities' "Anthem for the Earnest". Did I mention that these guys are tight? Mr. Iverson's playing covered the gamut from a Hellhounds of Chaos style that had one quivering in one’s seat to a pastoral gamboling of ewes on a meadow evocation that brought moisture to one's eyes and a need to be dab it away. Mr. Anderson produced clear and singularly powerful notes that kept the web and tangle of the other two players from choking the spirit of some of the compositions. He was the calm in the storm of sound. The stage was set for the arrival of one more performer.

I did not know, nor do I know much more at this point of the story that is Wendy Lewis. Her site indicates other associations and other musical genres.The Bad Plus. Speaking for myself, I was a touch nervous about her appearance. How would she fit in with this group that was unto itself for such a long time? Would the trio be ruined by the addition of another angle? 180 degrees to 360 is a major change. The foursome commenced with Wilco’s Radio Cure, a cover form their latest album. There was no degradation of sound; it was addition with no bad pluses. The crowd went nuts, men were fist-thumping each other, an Eagles game had broken out. Ms. Lewis had us in her clutches and for the next 40 minutes she didn’t let go, The group covered the BeeGees’ "How Deep is Your Love" (much deeper in the Wendy Lewis rendition), Pink Floyd’s "Comfortably Numb", and even "Blue Velvet". For an encore, Reid Anderson started singing, in the Bad Plus style of things, Neil Young’s "Heart of Gold". Midway through, he relinquished the song to Wendy Lewis who then lifted it to another level.
It left most of us breathless; the wait-staff, on the other hand, was still shilling for orders.

A great concert at a not-so-great venue. Oh, if only the Zanzibar Blue were still around. Robert Bynum, where art thou?

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