2015, Music

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman Live at the Wintergarden Theatre, Toronto, Occtober 15, 2015

The last time I saw the Bad Plus they blew me away. But with Joshua Redman they are significantly more jazzy, significantly closer to the mainstream, far more within the tradition than I was expecting. It’s not that their old music wasn’t within the tradition – jazz musicians have been covering non-jazz songs since jazz began – but their older, rockier music was decidedly difficult to pin down, even if it was, at times, more accessible than much contemporary jazz.

With Redman, they are far, far more of a conventional jazz group than they used to be. I don’t mean that in a bad way – they are one hell of a band – but they were much more definable as a jazz group this time, I feel like. Redman has, for better or worse, made them conform more to jazz conventions.

But musically, they are hardly stuck in one pigeonhole. Someone once described The Bad Plus’ music as “avant garde populism” and I can’t think of a better description. They play so avant, at times, that they border on free jazz – or, at least, some of the avant garde jazz heavily influenced by free jazz, where tonality is less important – and yet there are other parts that are as cool as anything, almost boring in how cool the music is. And they still ride those funk and rock grooves, though nowhere near as much as they used to. Instead we get cool intros and outros and manic, avant crescendos, with the odd playful little detour (including an apparent coda that turned into a monstrous cacophony).

All but one selection seemed to be from the new album, so it makes sense that the concert was dominated by songs that sound more like this new version of the band. But that’s okay. I like when I get something I don’t expect. Especially when the musicianship is this good.

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