The Bad Minus (Part 1)
Being in NYC for two years, I’ve gotten a kind of feel for what a show is going to be like before I go. When times are tough financially, it really makes you realize what kind of music you like to go see, or at least what you think is important to go see. There are a few people who I’ll always go see no matter what, just personal favorites who I like to see in various situations. There are some athletes who I like to see once or twice a year, people like Chris Potter or Tain, real technical geniuses who remind you what real comfort is like no matter what type of music they’re playing. 9 times out of 10 I’ll go see anyone who’s over 80 play. Recently I’ve been studying up on free music, so at this point in time I always go see people who are pillars of that community, Evan Parker, many AACM members, people like that. Of course there are a few ensembles that I never miss, The Bad Plus, The Dan Weiss Trio, The Miles Okazaki Quartet, The Ralph Alessi Quartet, The Bandwagon, The Bill McHenry Quartet, Trio 3, among many others.
But there’s another type of show that I’ll go to without fail, and that’s a show that I can’t imagine before I go. If I’m looking through listings, and I don’t have an inkling about how it will sound, I go without fail. Donna Lewis’ gig at Drom was one of these gigs.
For those of you who think you don’t know who Donna Lewis is, you do.
Everyone alive in the mid 90s does, at least.
Now I was made aware of this gig due to a rip in the jazz/time continuum, not through my normal methods. On paper, it read: Donna Lewis presents her new album, a David Torn produced disc, featuring Aaron Parks, Reid Anderson, and David King.
So I ordered tickets online and got there early. How in the HELL are these three going to sound behind Donna Lewis?
Unsurprisingly, they were great. I like seeing people in circumstances where they have to rest on nothing but their musicality and professionalism. I love gigs with subs, I love thrown together supergroups, I just love watching musicians feel each other out, and simply play the gig. It doesn’t necessarily make for the best music, but it’s damn good theatre at the very least.
Now, Donna Lewis, to my surprise (call it a hesitance to accept pop music, I guess) is a fantastic singer in technical terms. She was nailing pitches, had a great voice that melded nicely with the band. The situation was slightly strange, because Donna came out onstage and admitted out front that she has no idea what she’s doing in a Jazz context, which was extremely impressive to me. Were it that all pop musicians at some point made an honest leap into some different music and threw themselves at the mercy of the musicians that play it, taking their ego out of the picture!
Two things excited me at this gig: Reid Anderson can make a massive amount of impact with very little action, and Dave King needs to be crowned the current king of straight-8th rock beats.
Now the first point isn’t so surprising, but Aaron was playing rather sparsely, and Dave was making the action happen, but I must say that every single time I heard Reid do something out of the ordinary, it was great. He never made any extraneous movement, and when he did move, it had tremendous impact on the tune. Amazing watching that kind of show, where you’re just waiting for someone on the bandstand to make a move because you know how great the move is going to be.
Dave King needs to be put up in the pantheon of modern beat makers such as Brian Blade and Herlin Riley, people who have endless variations on these personal, deeply grooving beats that they play. I could listen to Dave King play beats with no variation for a long amount of time without feeling the slightest bit bored. His feel and orchestral choices fascinate me.
I have never come close to achieving a feel like that, mostly because I don’t love that music. The history of rock and its drummers are pretty much a mystery to me, although I can always feel when something is grooving and when it’s not. There are a few Jazz drummers that I’ve seen in NYC that really make me groove in a rock feel—Kenny Wollesen, Dan Weiss, John Hollenbeck to name a few—and Dave King is right at the top of that list. I feel like in the current trend of straight 8ths Jazz, the groove gets lost, and the only two ways you can save it are through the beats of hip-hop and rock(that’s a huuuuuge topic for another post).
Regardless, it was great seeing these guys work in this context. It was even better when they went into a post-Bley freakout session in the middle of a tune, breaking out of the context. I really wish those guys would play that kind of music more, but that’s just a fanboyish request, I think. It’s not like I dislike what they’re doing now.
This is the first of three posts dedicated to Bad Plus members playing in un-Bad Plus settings. Who’s next? Tune in to find out.
“Nothing dates more quickly than whole tone writing, being circular. . . Even Debussy could not entirely avoid this failing.”—Gunther Schuller, on the use of whole tones in the swing era