Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bad Plus @ Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, 2009

I-95 cuts through the center of Wilmington. Just north of the city, a bypass cuts off from the Interstate for the folks who want to ignore Delaware's largest city. Just south of the city, this bypass, I-495, rejoins I-95 on its short run through the northern part of the state. The massive I-295, barrelling across the Delaware Memorial Bridge (name after the river it crosses, NOT the state it unloads onto) shortly joins up with I-95, a second vehicle tributary feeding, at times, an overflow of cars and trucks that gridlock this major highway. Driving the short piece of I-95 through Delaware is, in most cases, a herky-jerky experience. You're doing 65-75 one minute and then crawling at 3-5 mph the next. You finish off the short drive by getting sucker-punched with an exorbitant toll charge as you cross over the state line to Maryland. "Thanks for the money....Sucka!!" should be Delaware's state slogan at that point.
Why the travelogue from Hell?

The Bad Plus were in town last night, the opening act (a criminal slot!?!? These guys should have been headlining!) for Wednesday's show of the week long 2009 DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. The grey skies were threatening, dropping sporadic precipitation on rain-brave crowds. Half-way through the set, the downpour began. But it was too late.

The band was in high gear and no one was leaving. Going through 3-4 of their own songs (Set list (as best as I can remember; I took no notes, my memory banks are defaulting), they arrived at point in the show where, as required of all performers at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, they played a Clifford Brown composition. Their choice was Joy Spring. As per their usual when doing covers, The Bad Plus takes a tune and bends and twists it into barely recognizable shapes. So too with "Joy Spring". They placed the tune in a car driving down I-95 and through northern Delaware. It began at high speed, slowed down to a crawl, was pushed along by a blaring trucker in the form of Dave King's incessant drumbeats, sped up again, slammed on the brakes, paid the toll, and happily left the state. It was a thrill and it was the song that hooked the audience into paying attention to these guys. Their rendition was tight, each player attuned to the quick change in speed. A deserved long round of applause followed the song's completion.

Set List (With apologies for absences and play list order)

"1972 Bronzer Medalist" from their first album, These Are The Vistas
"Song X", a typical Ornette Coleman composition, i.e., somewhat difficult to follow with a tapping foot.
"Everybody Wants to Rule the World", "Physical Cities" and "Mint" from Prog
Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring (performed here by a great piano duo of Mr. Monty Alexander and Mr. Billy Taylor)

Surprisingly, nothing from For All I Care. Yes, their last album did feature extensive vocals by Minnesota native Wendy Lewis but there were songs on the album without vocals. Interesting choice on their part not to promote their latest effort even though they played without Wendy Lewis.

Wish they’d played Anthem for the Earnest, as the outdoors venue would have particularly suited this banging-on-all-notes composition.

As per their usual, Dave King was engagingly rambunctious and demonstrative with his drum-playing, Reid Anderson was understated and without the spoken word in his bass-playing, and Ethan Iverson was alarmingly quick and thick with the layers of notes he pours on when dashing across his keyboard. The sound was crystal clear, the background noise was minimal, the concert was free, and the audience was respectfully quiet during the playing. We left shortly after their set was done, not because of the downpour then commencing but rather due to the group that was to follow, a smooth-jazz conglomerate that would certainly ruin the discombobulated thrill of the last Bad Plus notes still floating in the air. The Minneapolis boys did quite well.

Here's a NYT review of their performance the night before in NYC.

(Hint: Click on the photos to ENLARGE them)

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