A significant portion of the audience of 500 that attended the concert by the Bad Plus with Joshua Redman on Saturday night at the Gem Theater on Saturday were middle- and high-school students who had participated in the American Jazz Museum’s 18th & Vine Jazz Festival last week.
The impressionable youths were exposed to 75 minutes of wildly exuberant improvised music that might have permanently altered their perception of jazz. The Bad Plus, a notoriously cheeky trio from Minneapolis, has expanded the vocabulary of jazz during the past 15 years. The group’s embrace of rock bands like Radiohead and classical composers such as Igor Stravinsky has alarmed traditionalists and thrilled adventurous listeners.
The positive reception to a 2015 album that documents the trio’s intriguing collaboration with tenor saxophonist Redman led to the current tour that included the Jammin’ at the Gem concert.
The concert opened with the deceptively serene “1979 Semi-Finalist.” Aside from drummer Dave King’s gunshot-like outbursts, the piece might have lulled unsuspecting members of the audience into a false sense of security. The selection acted as the equivalent of the slow ascent that opens many roller-coaster rides.
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The subsequent “Faith Through Error” was a white-knuckle plunge that hurtled the audience through a dizzying series of hairpin turns and perilous loops. Redman’s inspired flight demonstrated why he captivated jazz fans when he burst onto the scene in the 1990s. The whirlwind trip also included a pointillistic statement by pianist Ethan Iverson and a King solo that resembled the violent tantrum of an exasperated teenager.
Redman’s masterful manipulation of the pliant melody of “As This Moment Slips Away” lasted for several enchanting minutes and his reading of “Lack the Faith But Not the Wine” was a meditation in unadulterated beauty. Although Redman is the son of the free jazz saxophone titan Dewey Redman, his strenuous solo on “Big Eater” evoked the virtuosic swagger of Sonny Rollins.
After Redman stepped aside during “Big Eater,” Iverson took an oblique solo that seemed entirely at odds with the mesmerizing groove laid down by bassist Reid Anderson and King. Years of playing together have given the trio the luxury of playing both within and outside of conventional parameters. The quartet worked together on “County Seat,” a fevered Iverson composition that sounded like a mirthful deconstruction of Prohibition-era jazz.
The closing selection “Silence is the Question” began as a contemplative tone poem and gradually swelled into a barbarous cacophony. An appropriate summation of the astonishing concert, the selection acted as a convincing manifesto on the infinite possibilities of jazz.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag
1979 Semi-Finalist; Faith Through Error; As This Moment Slips Away; The Mending; Big Eater; Lack the Faith But Not the Wine; County Seat; Silence is the Question.