Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Bad Plus

So, the Bad Plus performed tonight in Norman, OK, as part of the annual Jazz in June Festival.

I'm gonna pause a moment and let that sink in, for those of you who need it.

The BAD PLUS. Certifiably, for those of us who like this sort of thing, the most inventive, exciting jazz group working today. One of the only mainstay jazz groups who still take the idea of moving jazz forward seriously, and who will always have a place in my heart because of it.

Watch this if you need an introduction to them:


Okay, so let's talk about this for a minute. This was a free festival, in Norman, OK. Yes, the University of Oklahoma is in Norman, so it's a college town, but this is also a free festival, so it attracted all sorts of folks who don't routinely listen to jazz, and if they do, they DEFINITELY don't listen to anything like the Bad Plus.

I sat on the grass with my friend Kyle and his friend Ben (who I'd also call my friend now, especially after he found $40 in my back seat I didn't know was there), and watched as the spectacle unfolded before me. People milled about, oblivious to the fact that there was even music going on. They talked, they got drunk. All ages of folks, too...there were little girls dancing that couldn't have been more than 4 years old. There were tweens and teens who actually paid attention. There were adults of every generation, even seventy-something couples sitting in their camp chairs and listening. There were ladies in their 50's to the left of the stage dancing to songs that changed meter, tempo and groove multiple times in the space of a minute (and were tonally challenging to boot). I guarantee you, most of these people had never heard anything like this before, and here so many of them were, "finding themselves unable to stop listening", as Kyle put it.

I have two things to say about this. One. It was a phenomenal, phenomenal performance. These guys might be the best musicians I've ever seen play, period. It pretty much comes down to Zappa Plays Zappa and these guys. Their mastery of what they do is unparalleled. All three of them have such a large musical vocabulary that nothing is beyond their reach in terms of their three instruments. They all compose pieces for the group, and all the pieces are flabbergastingly amazing. I feel blessed to be alive while they're performing, because, if there's any justice in the world, their work will live on long, long after they're dead. I hope, one day, I can tell some 20 year old whipper snapper that I got to see them play once.

Two. These guys have saved jazz as an art form. No, I'm not kidding. Once the bebop revolution occurred in jazz, the music ceased to be about the pop charts, or compromise. This was jazz's destiny; to be the first form of art music to emerge since the European classical tradition. Some time in the 70's, jazz became pop music again, and all through the 80's and 90's, many, many jazz players continued to push it in that direction. The Bad Plus came along, however, and decided to make jazz on their own terms, with a vocabulary that included the rock and roll tradition and the songs of its icons (see their covers of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Iron Man", "Heart of Glass", "Tom Sawyer" to name a few), as well as the entire jazz vocabulary of the last century. The result is a music that is uncompromising, beautiful, challenging, and swingin'. It is the logical, true jazz of the 21st century, and tonight, in a park in Norman, Oklahoma, a thousand people heard it and reacted positively. All of us there witnessed a miracle, I'm pretty sure.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

Can't say how thrilled I was to see them headline. Run-of-the-mill "jazz festivals" mostly don't book real jazz acts anymore, and JIJ was no exception. Booking them as the headliner this year was a brilliant repudiation of that trend. I applaud those who made the decision. Wish I hadn't been gigging that night.

-Dan Walker

OKC Herbivore said...

beautiful. i am doing everything i can to go see em in Kansas City in sep.