Throughout its existence, the Bad Plus has continually challenged the expectations of what a piano trio should sound like.
From the early, brash interpretations of Nirvana and Black Sabbath, through reinventions of Igor Stravinsky and a wealth of intriguing originals, the members have proven that their work might have a sprinkle of irreverence, but they are far from a novelty act. Part of this can be attributed to the band’s egalitarian ways. While many jazz groups revolve around a leader who calls the shots, Bad Plus members Ethan Iverson (piano), Dave King (drums) and Reid Anderson (bass) each contributed to the personality and sound of the music.
When Iverson announced in early 2017 that he was leaving the band, he claimed that “his statement had been made” after 17 years in the group. According to one article, he also didn’t want the band to continue. It makes sense. While many jazz groups can stay on track with a new pianist, Iverson’s distinct style — a blend of classical chops and Keith Jarrett-style lyricism — was part of the Bad Plus design. His bandmates considered retiring the name, until pianist Orrin Evans agreed to join.
Evans, a prolific pianist out of Philadelphia, is no stranger to Pittsburgh, having played with his electric band Luvpark during the heyday of East Liberty’s Shadow Lounge. He has also recorded several straight-ahead acoustic albums as a leader, and with trumpeter Sean Jones. At the piano, he plays with a distinct tone, crisp and intense without ever sounding too heavy. Yet he leaves an impression similar to a player like McCoy Tyner. If anyone could fill the spot vacated by Iverson, Evans is definitely the man for the job.
The band, with Evans, told DownBeat magazine last spring how it feels to continue with a new member.
“It’s not that we have to continue this band because it’s part of our living,” King said. “It’s always been this family-style art project. Not to sound pretentious, but it’s always been where these leaders come together and they share the space.”
In the same article, Evans made it clear that he could fit in and maintain his personality.
“Every time I get on the bandstand, I hope and pray it’s going to be a collective experience,” Evans said. “Maybe here, the fact that you’re playing everyone’s compositions — you’re getting to know everyone compositionally — really lets you into another part of their soul.”
THE BAD PLUS. 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24. August Wilson Center – African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown. $41.75. 412-456-6666 or www.aacc-awc.org