Due to the strike by CSO musicians, this program has been canceled. Patrons may exchange their tickets for another upcoming Symphony Center performance, donate their tickets to the CSO or receive a refund. Please contact Patron Services by phone at (312) 294-3000 or by email.
No band is guaranteed longevity and in fact, when The Bad Plus reached its 18th year, founding members Reid Anderson and Dave King considered throwing in the towel.
Then they didn’t. After one personnel change, The Bad Plus soldiered on, last year producing a new album, “Never Stop II,” the title of which stands as a testament to their combined, newfound commitment. “We just felt like this is something we built over 18 years and we were determined to continue,” said Anderson in a recent phone interview ahead of its SCP Jazz concert March 15, at which the band will be joined by influential guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
The Bad Plus likes to describe itself as a bass-drum-piano trio that is without a leader but operates through a collective identity, as does the Art Ensemble of Chicago or the Modern Jazz Quartet. The group, which initially featured pianist Ethan Iverson, who was recently replaced by Orrin Evans, is one of those rare units that is as comfortable performing in a regal concert hall like Symphony Center, as it is in an eclectic outdoor summer rock festival like Bonnaroo in rural Tennessee. The wide appeal comes directly from an aesthetic that melds genres through inventive rhythmic time signatures, impressionistic melody lines, surprise change-ups and hard, funky grooves. It also helped that, early on, the group remade signature songs by popular groups like Nirvana, the Flaming Lips, Blondie and Black Sabbath.
Populism is a good thing, bassist Anderson said, even though it is often derided by serious jazz fans. “The music needs fans. It seems that if people are interested in seeing jazz, they’ll go see a legend at a festival. One thing we consciously set out to be is to have a band identity and have a sound,” he said. “So that people say ‘I’m not just seeing some jazz, I’m specifically seeing the Bad Plus,’ I think that’s really important.
“In the earliest days there was a lot of criticism that we were a flash in the pan. But over the years we have managed to reach a lot of people — hard-core jazz fans to people who would normally never listen to jazz,” he said. “That’s very gratifying.”
Breaking down genre walls came naturally. “It was almost like something we didn’t have to consider just because we were all determined to bring all of our influences into this band,” he said. Part of that direction came from age: All three members grew up in the 1970s and 1980s era of classic rock FM and new wave MTV. “We were all surrounded by a lot of popular music. We genuinely like that music and want to celebrate that as much as jazz, so just by the virtue of that, we unabashedly celebrate those influences.”
Evans, a Philadelphia-based artist known for his solo work, also has performed with the avant-garde collective Tarbaby, has collaborated with Pharoah Sanders, Mos Def and Sean Jones, and leads the Captain Black Big Band, a large swing orchestra. Anderson and Evans crossed paths in the early 1990s and kept in touch. When it became clear that original member Iverson would be exiting the Bad Plus because he was becoming less and less interested in touring, Evans was the obvious replacement.
“Orrin is a brilliant musician but he is also somebody who is band-oriented,” Anderson said. “He’s always had a collective music-making spirit about him. Plus, his playing has a maverick quality to it.”
Once The Bad Plus wrapped up its final tour with Iverson in late 2017, Anderson and King quickly went into the studio with Evans to record a new album. The process the band created years ago remains largely the same: Every musician is also a composer who writes on the piano; original compositions come in more or less fully formed. The collaboration within the Bad Plus comes from the entryways the other musicians make into the music using their own voice. “That gives it spontaneity,” Anderson said.
Evans also contributed to “Never Stop II” as a writer, and his playing in the studio forced Anderson and King to respond in different ways as well. “Change one-third of anything, and it will be a significant change, but at the same time the foundation of what we do is very strong,” he said.
The Bad Plus has veered away from deconstructing familiar pop and rock tunes to focus more on originals. At Symphony Center, the group will play selections from its wide body of work but focus mainly on the new album and newer material it intends to record soon. With Evans, the next phase of The Bad Plus will maintain the band’s shared aesthetic even as its members expand their musical territory for the group even further.
“We’re all iconoclastic players. We all have unique, individual voices,” he said. “It’s not just three random guys. The three of us are together for a reason.”
Chicago-based journalist Mark Guarino writes for the Guardian, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Washington Post, Salon, the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Agence France-Press and many other outlets.