Initially the pairing of The Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman with Kneebody struck me as odd. As the concert in Théâtre Maisonneuve unfolded, I realized that the two groups were kindred spirits. Both are very dynamic bands with strong personal languages and no fixed “bandleader,” with multiple composers in the band showcasing all the musical possibilities of their groups. They are the electric and acoustic sides of the same coin.
Kneebody began the evening with a composition by saxophonist Ben Wendel, called “Drum Battle,” to be released on an upcoming collaboration with electronic artist Daedalus. The opening lilting hip-hop groove gave way to a distorted bass & Rhodes melody in 5/4 with both horns floating away on delay trails. Kneebody’s set was plagued by too much low end, at least where I was sitting – bassist Sam Minaie (subbing for regular member Kaveh Rastegar) and Nate Wood’s kick drum often overwhelmed Shane Endsley’s trumpet. When Endsley played delicate Harmon muted passages in other tunes, even that was full of low-end information.
There were still nuances to be had, like the uncanny blend between Wendel & Endsley. Adam Benjamin’s Rhodes, with heavy modulation, gave a sense of spaciousness to the music. His sparse solo on “Greenblatt” evoked the vocal quality of Joe Zawinul. Benjamin’s piece “Unforeseen Influences” moved through various episodes, showcasing the most electronic palette of Kneebody. Switching from the combination of ring-modulated Rhodes, chattering hi-hats and harmonized trumpet to a roaring punky-reggae party for Wendel’s solo. The set ended with Wendel’s piece “Still Play,” a rollicking perpetual motion line.
With the addition of Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus has unlocked new colours in their old repertoire and developed a truly cohesive language as a quartet. Their set was a display of everything that informs the band – references that have been more oblique on past trio dates are well and truly evident now. Opening with drummer Dave King’s composition “Beauty Has it Hard,” the band deconstructed the hauntingly simple harmony as though the world were crumbling around a Db major triad. Pianist Ethan Iverson’s “Faith Through Error” began with a cascading figure in unison with Redman – almost Kneebody-esque – that gradually splintered off into a four-way conversation reminiscent of the recently departed Ornette Coleman. Bassist Reid Anderson assumed MC duties and had the biggest share of compositions in this set. His songwriting has an element of innocence and joy. There was a true confluence of personalities here – I was sure Redman’s “The Mending” was written by Iverson, a cousin of the crying Ornette ballads like “Broken Shadows.” The tunes that put Redman most on his home turf – implying superimposed harmonies and flowing streams of 8th notes – were written by Anderson. The final Anderson composition, “Silence is the Question,” grew from a series of bass chords into a dense, fiery inferno before ending in silence. These two bands have set the bar incredibly high for the music to come this year.
– Review by David Ryshpan