Arts & Culture

The Bad Plus’s 2003 Album Still Reverberates Today

Evan Sanden, contributor

Although released nearly two decades ago, The Bad Plus’s “These Are The Vistas” continues to merit discussion and maintains its influence today. 

“These Are The Vistas” paved the way for other modern jazz/rock trios. With a slew of innovative covers and masterful original compositions, their successive albums have maintained an appreciative audience and continue to excite listeners with every new project.

The Bad Plus is a largely rock-inspired acoustic jazz trio. It started as a collaborative project between drummer Dave King, bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson in the early 90s. (Iverson left the band in 2017, followed by the arrival of pianist Orrin Evans.) Per a review from writer Dominique Leone, “These Are The Vistas,” the band’s third studio project and first release under Columbia Records, helped solidify the band’s place as a powerful and versatile group.

Leone notes that, opening with Anderson’s “Big Eater,” Iverson’s repeating block chords present a post-rock feel which is juxtaposed with his more dissonant, fast-moving right hand, as well as Anderson’s lively bassline. King’s drumming fuels an ever-changing groove that caters even more to the buildup of frantic energy in the piece. Following that is the punchy and dense “Keep The Bugs Off Your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass,” featuring a melodic bassline with a weighty, unaccompanied solo. The trio temporarily abandons their more avant-garde sounds in “Everywhere You Turn,” with a wistful and soft-spoken intro that slowly grows into a steady groove with bass and drums laying framework for heavy and occasionally lush piano harmonies.

Blake’s work with King’s drumming can be heard in “Guilty,” featuring a heavy pulse on two and four between the bass and drums while the piano delivers a series of evocative, melodic statements and questions. This opens up for a Mingus-esqe bass solo accompanied by shifting upper harmonies in the piano and a compact but roomy drum feel that seems to only grow over time, feeling at home on a modern hip-hop track. Building to a thunderous cacophony, the piece eventually settles back into the opening sound and begins slowly dissipating until the last chord. “Boo-Wah” follows, pushing forward with its abrupt starts and stops, rapid shifts in texture and frequent displacement of pulse. The album closes with its longest track, “Silence is the Question,” a meditative and slow-building piece with a ballad-like quality. 

Another important element of The Bad Plus’s music is the collaborative dynamic between the three members. As opposed to a trio led by the pianist with a drum and bass accompaniment, the interaction between their respective instruments allows for much more expression and unexpected moments. Part of the excitement that they bring is in their ability to bend conventions around their ideas, resulting in a composite sound that is distinct and specific to the group.

The project made NPR’s “50 Most Important Recordings of The Decade” list, as it not only made a splash in the jazz community, but also intrigued other listeners with its variety of covers, unique sound and intricate improvisations. The spacing of the players’ sounds paired with the electronic treatment of some of King’s drumming seems to invite an outside audience.