REVIEW: The Bad Plus plus Binker & Moses at Scala (2016 EFG LJF)

The Bad Plus. Photo credit: Josh Goleman


The Bad Plus plus Binker & Moses
(Scala, 13th November 2016. Review by Rob Mallows)

The Bad Plus’ USP, is well known: they’re the cool jazz band that does Abba covers. But what comes across most strongly in live performance is what great technical musicians Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass) and David King (drums) are. This was a show driven along not by bombast and over-amplification but by the quality of the tune-smithery, each track played with minimal fuss and introduction.

The set list was half originals, half covers taken from their new CD It’s Hard. The band has a built a global fanbase in part on their capacity to take an everyday, knockabout pop song and, in the space of seven or so minutes, completely turn upside down the listener’s understanding of that song.

Take Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. A no-nonsense bubblegum ballad, but when filtered through Iverson’s keyboard jiggery pokery and King’s deft cymbal work it became an expansive, airy jazz ballad with crazy inversions and chord changes which belied the simplicity of the original. With Barry Manilow’s Mandy ‘70s saccharine balladry was turned into a wildly exciting harmonic ride, with Iverson maintaining the audience’s attention by dropping back into the main theme every time it looked like he’d lost the thread of the piece altogether in a flight of keyboard gymnastics.

Doing jazz versions of pop tunes is something which is easy to do poorly and extremely hard to do well. The Bad Plus truly are the masters of it, seeing in the simplest of pop sweetmeats the ingredients for a jazz banquet. Across eight songs with two encores, this was all prime meat, no filler: dramatically propulsive drumming; rhythmic shifts from the languid to the chaotic with the merest glance; generously paced melodies that gave each note time to breathe and just be.

Even the way they handled the inevitable CD sales pitch was done with élan, Reid Anderson softly singing to the audience that albums were available for sale. A class act.

Binker Golding (saxophone) and Moses Boyd (drums) made up for the lack of tonal options in their stripped-down duo format with gusto and youthful energy, as heard on their recent album Dem Ones (REVIEWED)

Saxophone and drums might seem thin gruel to work with live, but they made the most of it, switching from a free jazz opening bombardment to more straight-ahead post-bop, with lots of repetitive, hypnotic phrasing from Golding which Boyd swatted away happily with each drum kick and cymbal crash.

The announcement of a new album with a number of different London players - such as harpist Tori Handsley to fill out the sound - suggests the dynamic duo is itching to expand.

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