The Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis

Dates and Venue 11 March 2009 @ 8pm | Kay Meek Centre, West Vancouver

Featured Performers Ethan Iverson - piano, Reid Anderson - bass, Dave King - drums, Wendy Lewis - vocals

Reviewer John Jane

The Bad Plus rolled into West Vancouver, played a couple of solid, yet musically diverse sets, went away as popular as ever with faithful followers and probably added new fans to their ranks.

Capilano University Entertainment Program Director, Fiona Black made the drive over from the North Vancouver campus to introduce The Bad Plus (+Wendy Lewis) to a packed Kay Meek Centre auditorium.

The four-member piano ‘trio’ covered a lot of material from their new album, For All I Care, a pretty eclectic selection of covers as divergent as Kurt Cobain's "Lithium" and Milton Babbitt’s “Semi-Simple Variations.” But the band didn’t just come to promote their new CD.

The first set (without Ms Lewis) included many of their own compositions like pianist Ethan Iverson’s “Bill Hickman at Home” inspired by the legendary stunt driver and part-time actor whose claim to fame was the infamous car chase in the movie “Bullitt.” The tune's languid feel suggested that Bill must have been a moody guy. “Anthem for the earnest” written by the band’s eccentric drummer, Dave King, was spirited by contrast. Its fluid melody lines and repetitive rhythms kept everybody’s toes tapping.

The second set was devoted to the band’s trademark cover tunes; kicking off with an edgy rendition of "Lithium" that may have had some in the audience wondering if they had come to hear jazz. They need not have worried. The foursome’s pared-down interpretation of Bobby Vinton’s “Blue velvet” that featured some intensely raw vocals for Lewis proved to be a crowd-pleaser.

Dressed in a white tee shirt, black “hoodie” and poorly fitting jeans, Wendy Lewis doesn’t have the panache of Jane Monheit or is she likely to be as commercially successful as Holly Cole, but she does possess an indefinable ethereal quality and fits well into the trio’s multifarious style. Her haunting rendition of “Comfortably numb” which also featured Iverson’s dazzling piano playing is even more haunting than Pink Floyd’s original.

The Bad Plus’s special treatment doesn’t simply involve “jazzing-up” rock tunes, nor are the arrangements so heavily improvised that it’s no longer possible to recognise the original. These musicians amplify the song’s basic structure and offer it an alternative translation.

Many bands overlook their bass-player, but not this one. Reid Anderson even got an extended solo on “How deep is your love?” The Bad Plus is, judging by their performance last Wednesday (11, March), an essentially democratic unit. Iverson seems to be the (reluctant) spokesman; otherwise, all members assume equal responsibility for the band’s distinctive sound.

After a standing ovation from an appreciative and knowledgeable audience, Anderson, Iverson, King and Lewis returned to the stage for a generous encore of Neil Young’s “Heart of gold” with the four combining in a multi-part harmony.

The Bad Plus clearly stated its status as one of North America’s most versatile and accessible jazz groups, even as it crosses over into alternative rock and fusion, its collective talent will no doubt be extolled for some time into the future.

© 2008 John Jane