When: Wed., Dec. 14, 7 & 9:30 p.m. 2016
The Bad Plus emerged at the start of the century by essaying popular music of the rock era, instantly attracting attention for their conceptual bravado. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King tackled songs by Aphex Twin, Abba, Nirvana, and David Bowie, hammering them into new shapes and making them more interesting with rigorous arrangements. The treatments were never cynical, and even during their most mawkish performances, when Iverson unveiled his inner Liberace, there was a deep sincerity at work. In 2010 the piano trio began writing their own material, and the melodies, lurching grooves, and glittery flourishes felt natural alongside their pop interpretations. But earlier this year they dropped It’s Hard (OKeh), marking a return to their earlier MO: here the Bad Plus luxuriate on the overripe balladry of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” and Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” rip apart art-rock staples like Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” and TV on the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun,” and offer rubato reinventions of jazz gems like Bill McHenry’s “Alfombra Magica” and Ornette Coleman’s “Broken Shadows.” The gambit may be familiar; still, the tactics, energy, and discoveries continue to feel fresh. When Iverson splits open melodic lines from Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” it’s both a love letter and a critical inquiry, a duality that explains why yet again the Bad Plus can’t be tied down by conceptual or any other kind of baggage.