One of the trios on this double-bill has a reputation for being irony-steeped hipsters who play irreverent pop covers, and who like nothing better than to thumb their noses at the jazz tradition. The other trio, while decidedly forward-looking, has earned the respect of even the most curmudgeonly Lincoln Center traditionalists by dint of their scholarly seriousness and deep respect for jazz history.
So... any guesses which band ended their set last night with a cover of Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," segueing directly into a deadpan rendition of "Moon River"?
Of course, the answer comes as no surprise to anyone who picked up Moran's 2002 solo piano outing, Modernistic. But I find it interesting how the popular perception of each trio tends to accentuate their differences, rather than, oh, I don't know... grouping them together as a movement? Because, beyond the extreme wonkishness of each group's pianist, these bands really do have a lot in common (and kudos to the Blue Note for setting up this very complimentary double-bill).
For instance: the composed material permeates the structure of every tune and isn't just used to bookend improvised solos. The anguilliform timekeeping evades easy description -- the rubatos are tight and the backbeats are loose and slippery, and the feel often slips almost imperceptibly from one extreme to the other. Both groups value the story-arc of the song over the splashiness of individual solos. They both have chamber-like communication and true equality of voices, having come to prominence as a unit, and having toured and recorded together for many years now. They are both earnest and reverent, but also wry and unpredictable. They are both a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
Moran and the Bandwagon (Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums) were up first last night, opening with a prerecorded groove that morphed into a slamming trio version of "Gangsterism on a Lunchtable" (from Modernistic), based on a syncopated figure that darts in and around a steadily repeated high-register B. It was the first of two solo piano pieces fleshed out by the rest of the Bandwagon last night -- the other was an elegiac, hypnotic version of "He puts on his coat and leaves" from Moran's brand-new record. Other highlights of the generous set included an abbreviated version of "RAIN" (also from Artist In Residence) leading into "The Field of the Dead," from Prokofiev's score to Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (I really, seriously, would love to sit down and watch some movies with Jason sometime), a cagey stride workout penned by Moran's mentor Jaki Byard, and distinctive takes on two more selections from the new release, "Milestone" and "Refraction 2," with the Bandwagon stretching out just as creatively and fearlessly on the new material as they do on the older stuff.
Ethan Iverson -- who is not only the Keeper of the Blog for The Bad Plus, but also their official spokesperson at every concert (did he lose a bet or something?) -- announced their first tune as "a rhythm changes in the Dexter Gordon tradition." That would be "Let Our Garden Grow" from Suspcious Activity?, which is technically a rhythm changes head the way Breathless is technically a film noir. The rest of the set was unrecorded material -- or at least, unrecorded by the Bad Plus: Dave King's groovy "Thrift Store Jewelry," Reid Anderson's bittersweet "You And I Is A Comfort Zone," a vaguely Old and New Dreams-ish take on Ornette Coleman's "Song X" (a tune communicated directly from Ornette to Ethan), and Ethan's lighter-than-air, bonsai-inspired "Casa Particular." Up until this point, The Bad Plus were a lot more agile, subtle, and understated than most of their detractors ever give them credit for, and also, evidently, more than the talkative "fans" sitting near me at the bar expected. The gaggle only interrupted their increasingly loud and annoying conversation to shout out requests for "Chariots of Fire" between tunes. I wanted to walk over to the Vanguard and borrow Lorraine Gordon -- when she shushes someone, they stay shushed. No such help was forthcoming from the staff at the Blue Note, where apparently, running up an exorbitant bar tab buys you the right to annoy the ever-loving fuck out of everyone else. Blessedly, the trust-fund talkers finally shut up when The Bad Plus kicked into their authentically proggy cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer," which Ethan announced with a shoutout to CanCon: "Rush, Glenn Gould, Paul Bley."
[Okay, at this point, honesty compels me to admit that while I absolutely understand where TBP are coming from with this cover -- a sincere admiration for the collected oeuvre of Mssrs. Lee, Lifeson, and Peart -- and it must be said that TBP do play the shit out of it -- I'm afraid I can't get fully on board, because I fucking hate Rush (and their insufferable Randian lyrics) with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns. Or perhaps rather the ice-cold fury of a thousand Nunavut winters.]
The Bad Plus closed with an evocative, anthemic ballad by Reid Anderson, "The World Is The Same," a heartfelt dedication to the recently departed Dewey Redman, thereby signifying their utter disdain for the jazz tradition. Oh, wait. Not "disdain." The other word. Um... it'll come to me...
UPDATE: If only I'd known about this last night...
Jason Moran's Bandwagon and The Bad Plus are at the Blue Note until September 17. Tickets to this performance were provided by DL Media.