The Bad Plus, Colston Hall, Sunday May 12th

“Where’s this going?” chuckled someone just behind me as Reid Anderson’s dead pan monologue about 70’s stunt driver Bill Hickman extended and took increasingly surreal twists. Anderson had been delivering ‘laugh out loud’  lines all evening, demonstrating his immaculate sense of timing isn’t confined to bass playing.  The monologue delivered a ‘shaggy dog’ style punchline to introduce ‘Bill Hickman at Home’.  Suppressed glee, intense focus and unexpected lateral shifts seem to characterise a lot of the music as well. This band can ramp up emotion and intensity to almost unbearable levels with repeated, elegant piano phrases locking with complementary bass and drum figures that loop and subtly morph before whipping the rug away with something abruptly contrasting.  They’re never not challenging of expectations The Bad Plus, even now we’ve had over ten years to get the hang of it.
Superficially, its very direct with four square rhythms from the drums, King sometimes beating out every quaver and rock, even punk never very far away. They started with Ethan Iverson’s ‘Pound for Pound’, a looping attractive melody that built and built until there was a lump in the throat, delightfully spare and a staccato drum pattern.  We soon got one those thunderous march like, crashing chord  progressions, again looping, with apparently naively harmonised melodies. ‘Where’s this going?’  I sometimes think and see something of a connection with those deadpan monologues – some of these pieces seem like extended suppressed chuckles.  I love the sudden switches to a different pattern often from a shout to a whisper; the melodic hooks that can make your heart flutter. Every piece seems like a team production with one or the other instrument sometimes becoming more prominent but relatively few overt solos.  Yes it was exciting, yes affecting but more than anything a thoroughly entertaining evening.


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