Capital Jazz Project looks incredible this year, timed and fed as it is by performers from the Melbourne Jazz Festival. First up for me was Bad Plus and they were very good. I'd known of them for the hubbub over their takes on Nirvana Teen Spirit and Blondie and the rest but they've now got to 10 albums and still visiting grunge and pop but playing plenty of their own compositions. This gig was all originals. They all composed fairly evenly. And what tortuous, fascinating, compositions they were! Heavy on complex and changing times and pauses and inserted bars and long, long bass lines and mutating rock grooves. And not just rhythm. I was intrigued by the flyover piano with dense dissonance, the rapid and long phrases, the repeating chords and single notes. Bassist Reid told me after that they all write on piano. No way they could compose these harmony changes without a piano (or a perfect ear) at hand. They had all studied classical con, and that too makes sense of the immensely dense and cerebral music and odd changes. I notice that John Shand heard it as a "collective predisposition to engage the intellect much more than the heart"*. I could feel that too but I wasn't at all disappointed, rather, I was intrigued. This was a performance of seriously considered music, created in the mind and performed in the flesh and considerably embroidered if not too much improvised. Not a gig of virtuosic flings and flourishes, but of thought and invention. Bad Plus play themselves; even when they are playing covers, they are identifiable. I wasn't particularly taken by any one solo, even if some piano had me intrigued, but I was fascinated and deeply satisfied by this gig. Not just swing. Unexpectedly plusgood, even doubleplus.
Bad Plus are Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass) and David King (drums). They performed at the Street Theatre for the Canberra Jazz Project.