The Bad Plus

The centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece The Rite of Spring has been celebrated throughout 2013, but Chicagoans will get the opportunity to take in one of the more unusual and provocative treatments of the ballet score when the Bad Plus perform their interpretation—which they call “On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring,” partly admitting the danger of a jazz-oriented trio tackling such an iconic work of modern classical music—Friday night at the Logan Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Chicago. The group—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King—put their spin on part of another Stravinsky ballet, Apollo, on its 2009 album For All I Care (Heads Up), and then dared themselves to take on a bigger project. They debuted their version of Rite in a joint commission from Duke University and Lincoln Center in March of 2011.

While it requires no uncertain chutzpah to mount such an ambitious project—translating such a readily identifiable orchestral work for piano trio—the recording of the debut performance, which you can check out below, is pretty remarkable. The first time I heard it I was able to recognize certain indelible passages, like the opening bassoon lines, but my second listen was less about comparing the Bad Plus version to its predecessors and more about basking in its shape-shifting beauty. There’s a loose rhythmic drive that’s relatively unrelenting and unchanging—as on the original—which requires dogged attention and care, especially when there are only three players providing every sound, and clocking in at around 40 minutes, the work demands lots of memorization from players who are used to improvising.

Yet as Iverson told the Tribune‘s Howard Reich in a story that ran today, “The thing is that the Bad Plus has really embraced the influence of progressive rock and 20th century classical music . . . so somehow, for whatever we’re wanting to communicate we’ve always had the tools that Stravinsky invented with that piece.” Indeed, to label the trio at this point in their career a jazz group (or jazz-rock or whatever) kind of misses the point. They’ve been constantly engaged in forming new hybrids since they began in 2000—not for the sake of creating hybrids, but because the music they first interpreted and later composed for the band demanded it.

YouTube video

Today’s playlist:

John Lewis & Albert Mangelsdorff/Zagreb Jazz Quartet, Animal Dance (Atlantic, Japan)
Kalle Kalima & K-18, Out to Lynch (TUM)
Natalia Lafourcade, Mujer Divina: Homenage a Agustín Lara (Sony Music, Mexico)
Alexandra Grimal Trio, Shape (Marge)
Ilmiliekki Quartet, Take It With Me (TUM)