The Bad Plus Rocked the Glenn Gould Studio

The Bad Plus rocked out the Glenn Gould Studio last Friday night, while the rest of Toronto's concert-going crowd were at clubs and bars taking in NXNEshows.

Three standing ovations followed a tight set that featured original works by this progressive jazz trio (piano, bass, percussion) as well as an assortment of reworked cover tunes by Blondie and Queen as well as classics by Canadian icons Neil Young and Rush.

They draw from diverse and unlikely sources, creating massively deconstructed arrangements all their own. The deadpan introductions by pianist Ethan Iverson elicited giggles in the audience. Things like "This next piece is about Joe Morello, the 1980 World Ski-jumping Champion, not the guy with the same name who is in The Dave Brubeck Trio.

"The guy danced every morning outside his house for a year after winning," he continued. After hearing their composition, I too felt like getting up and doing a jig. But the rather staid, soft-seat venue didn't quite allow for this.

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Another tune was introduced as a song about Bill Hickman, a stuntman in Hollywood, who had directed scenes in Bullitt. "This song is about the bachelor life in the Hollywood Hills," he said. "Bill Hickman at home."

These little tidbits gave the audience something to feast their imaginations on as the music played.

While bassist Reid Anderson took the centre stage positionally, it was the drummer, David King, who carried the show from behind his drum kit at the right. At times looking like a crazed Animal from The Muppet Show, King's versatility was a pleasure to witness.

Other times it appeared as if he'd escaped the Short Bus and had discovered a new toy, hitting the drums with wild abandon. Or appearing somewhat like the drummer in this TV ad:

During the intro into Heart of Gold, he used his elbow on a drum, as if performing shiatsu on the instrument. The piece ended with a surprising vocal with a chilling three-part harmony.

My only criticism of their live show is that it could've used a little more of the rock 'n roll treatment from a visual standpoint. The stage set-up was simple and the lighting was subtle. A show like this calls out for more of the dramatic. Still, seeing these gentlemen live will destroy your notions of what jazz music sounds like.

Photos by Roger Cullman.

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