2023, Music

The Bad Plus Live at The Horseshoe Tavern Sunday July 2, 2023

This was my third time seeing The Bad Plus, the jazz piano trio piano-less quartet. Though I’ve listened to a number of their albums many times, I didn’t fully realize what had happened to them as a band over the last couple of years. So this was like seeing a new band.

Pianist Ethan Anderson left the band in 2017, which is incredibly six years ago. (I feel like he had recently left.) He was replaced by another pianist who already had a long career in jazz. However, in 2021, he left and they eventually replaced him with a guitarist and saxophonist. (They had also recorded and toured with a saxophonist back in 2015.) But I was unaware of this fact until Thursday or Friday. I had literally no idea, I guess because I had been paying so little attention to contemporary music lately, especially during the pandemic.

So yeah, a brand new quartet with a significantly different sound.

Saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, of the Claudia Quintet and many, many other bands, definitely plays a little on the edge, tonally. I lack the musical education to tell you exactly how and why his sound is edgy even when he is playing straight melodies, but it is. I suspect it’s the chord structures and the fingering, but what do I know. Still, having seen them with Joshua Redman, this wasn’t such a departure.

The bigger departure is guitarist Ben Monder who, at times, appeared to be channeling John McLaughlin. I don’t know the contemporary jazz guitar scene very well, but that’s immediately who popped into my mind as I saw his runs up and down the fretboard during his solos. If you only know The Bad Plus as a piano trio, this is quite different.

The material was mostly drawn from their most recent album – which I have yet to listen to – with at least one song from one of their early records. There were no covers, which I found disappointing, because is the original reason I was drawn to them.

But I liked how utterly different they sounded. As Jenn said, it’s like they’ve done the opposite of mellowing out in their old age, which is a fun thing to see a band do. I’m sure I would have liked the set more had I familiarized myself with their material, but it was still nice to see a band that has been around for decades trying something different.

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