Only thing traditional about this trio is St. Louis gigs

By Daniel Durchholz

As the Bad Plus prepares to return to Jazz at the Bistro next week, drummer David King says the progressive jazz trio is starting to think of the annual January gigs as something of a tradition.

“I think this is our fourth year,” King says from his home in Minneapolis (pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Reid Anderson live in New York).

“I’ve grown to love St. Louis. I bring my family down — we really tear it up. We love the City Museum. And there’s a breakfast place called the Rooster. We just love walking around downtown.”

St. Louis even played a role in the making of the most recent Bad Plus album, “For All I Care.” On the album, the previously instrumental-only group worked with vocalist Wendy Lewis for outré takes on contemporary pop songs including Nirvana’s “Lithium,” Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.”

“St. Louis is where we first rehearsed that material,” King says. “We flew (Lewis) in for one of our runs two years ago, and she rehearsed with us during the day at Jazz at the Bistro. So we started to get the song shapes together for the record in St. Louis.”

Having toured in support of that album for the past year, the band is ready to look ahead again. The next release, due in March, will be a return to instrumental music, this time made up exclusively of original material.

King says that the concept of the band has always been to mix originals with deconstructions of pop tunes, but he’s sensitive to the notion that some still see their versions of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” or David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” as easy ploys for attention.

“We feel at this point, if you’re still thinking we’re a novelty, you’ve gotta get your head out (…),” he says.

“We were in the underground caves of the avant garde jazz world for 12 years before we even had a deal. There are complex emotions that we try and convey, and we challenge different conventions of what people think is music worthy of improvisation.

“Yeah, we made this last record with a singer and it was all cover tunes. But there was a Gyorgi Ligeti song on it that took us six months to learn.

“It’s not like we were playing the Georgia Satellites songbook. We take it very seriously.”

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