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The Rite Stuff: Bad Plus Trio

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Friday October 05, 2012

From The San Francisco Classical Voice

The Rite Stuff: Bad Plus Trio
By: Jeff Kaliss

Since the turn of the millennium, The Bad Plus has earned cred as a trio which, despite its wide appeal, resists being confined by musical conventions, whether they involve familiar rhythmic and harmonic structures or genre pigeonholing. Though his group is most frequently seen at jazz venues and festivals, bassist Reid Anderson, who turns 42 this month, points out that, “I grew up listening to rock music, and we’re very conscious of not denying our influences. To play music with a kind of rock energy is the most natural thing in the world to us, and we don’t feel we need to shy away from that, just because we’re ostensibly jazz musicians.”

On their eight albums to date, The Bad Plus’ quirky covers of such rock tunes as ABBA’s “Knowing Me Knowing You,” Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” far outnumber jazz covers such as Ornette Coleman’s moody “Street Woman.” But a recent commission from Aaron Greenwald at Duke University, during a residency there, thrust the trio into the classical arena. “I think it was our booking agent who suggested we do The Rite of Spring,” Anderson recalls. “We sort of said, okay,” he giggles, “but isn’t there something easier we could do? But the fact is, it was a really good idea. We’re all big fans of Stravinsky, and the things we’ve taken on in the past have often had that sort of anthemic quality. So it seemed like the right kind of challenge, in line with our collective aesthetic.”

After their Duke residency, the group took the commission on the road under the title On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Returning for their third appearance with San Francisco Performances next Friday, The Bad Plus’s take on The Rite will involve more than just Anderson’s bass, Dave King’s drums, and Ethan Iverson’s piano. “Drama is one of our things,” Anderson points out. “So there will also be video and lighting elements by Cristina Guadalupe, an architect, and Noah Hutton, a filmmaker. One of them will be with us, doing live DJ-ing of the video [using a laptop]. And in the second half, we’ll directly reference the original choreography and costuming [by Vaslav Nijinsky and Nikolai Roerich for the Paris premiere by the Ballets Russes, in 1913]. A good friend of ours, Julie Warden, will be dancing as the sacrificial virgin [Chosen Maiden].”

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