The Bad Plus 2.0 sounds as sublime as the 1.0 version
The Bad Plus jazz trio (Shervin Lainez/Shervin Lainez)
By Michael J. West March 11

Five months after the Bad Plus 1.0’s farewell D.C. appearance, the Bad Plus 2.0 made their debut D.C. appearance: Friday night at Blues Alley. The difference was substantial. Original pianist Ethan Iverson had quit the trio (leaving bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King), to be succeeded by established master Orrin Evans. At the farewell gig, even knowing Iverson’s departure was imminent, it was easy to hear the band as the collective effort they’d always intended. With the new lineup, however, all ears were on Evans — what he brought to the trio and how he fit in.

The Bad Plus clearly knew that. They opened the set with two tunes from their 2003 breakthrough (with Iverson), “These are the Vistas.” Evans’s touch on “Big Eater” and “Keep the Bugs Off the Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass ” was somehow both softer and steelier than his predecessor’s; his tones were more opaque, but without hitting the keys quite as hard. On “Bugs,” Evans also demonstrated a deep knowledge of jazz’s folk idiom: His solo spilled without fuss into sublime blues work.

Introductions having been made, the band spent most of the rest of the set exploring the music from their new album, “Never Stop II” (a sequel to their 2010 album, the first to feature all original compositions) — and returning the focus to their collective interplay. If Evans was the one who took the left turn into free-form jumbles on “Safe Passage,” the excitement was in how Anderson and King stuck with him, sketching out contours such that soon it was they who were leading the pianist. “Trace” rode on King’s crashing backbeat, but all three musicians worked closely to establish a groove and then embellish it — it was hard to tell at any point who was playing a solo.

If there was any point at which the band sounded like their first incarnation, it was on “Dirty Blonde,” an Anderson tune, but one clearly written for Iverson’s ringing chord style. (Evans refitted it with some gospel licks.) The next tune, however, was just as markedly for the new Bad Plus: Evans’s tune “Boffadem,” a tune in 11/4 time. As such a tricky meter must, it became a groove that defined the shape of the piece; Anderson kept the beat with a matter-of-fact vamp with hearty resonance, and King accented him with a small handbell. Evans brought high drama, creating tension by falling behind the beat and moving into an unexpected key, but Anderson and King didn’t bat an eyelash in moving with him. It’s only a few months old, but here is a group of musicians who have one another’s numbers.