The Bad Plus Credit: Shervin Lainez

Last year pianist Ethan Iverson announced he was leaving the Bad Plus, the singular piano trio he cofounded in 2000 with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King. Together they forged a new jazz paradigm, bringing postpunk concision to a style of music famous for its expansiveness. They attracted some derision for building a repertoire largely from pop, rock, and electronica hits, but anyone who was paying attention figured out that their interpretations were both sincere and inventive. Following Iverson’s departure, the group decided to soldier on with a new pianist, the superb postbop veteran Orrin Evans. Evans’s playing has always been more soulful, intuitive, and raw than Iverson’s, and I was skeptical about how he would fill his shoes, since Bad Plus has such a distinctive sound. But on the new Never Stop II (Legbreaker)—a sequel to the group’s first album of all-original material, Never Stop, which was released in 2010—the trio carries on without a hiccup. Part of that fluidity can be explained by the quirky writing styles of Anderson and Reid, who each meld gorgeous poplike melodic ideas with convoluted, masterfully executed structural conceits; the path is easy for a pianist of Evans’s skill, as he demonstrates on the exhilarating opener, “Hurricane Birds.” Throughout the recording Evans determinedly functions as an ensemble member intent on fitting into the group’s sound. While he clearly respects Iverson’s legacy, he leaves his own imprint on the music as well: he drops an insistent, driving solo within Reid’s tightly coiled “Trace,” and pushes the band toward luxuriant grace on his own tune “Boffadem,” braiding toy piano and standard piano into a timbre that suggests cycling kalimba patterns. I can only imagine that as he settles into the band he’ll exert his personality even more, which holds the promise of new directions from one of the most consistently rewarding groups of the last two decades. These are the first Chicago performances by the trio featuring Evans.   v