The Bad Plus rock Earshot as festival continues

The Bad Plus aren’t the kind of trio that swings, you’re much more likely to hear after-show comments like “That rocked!” or “Those guys are epic!”

Playing songs mostly from their upcoming as-yet-untitled new album, the trio used all of the acoustic advantages of Seattle’s Town Hall – having no problem filling the room with at-times pounding piano-bass-n-drums, at times so quiet as to have all of us in the audience holding our breath.

Piano as percussion intrument

Pianist Ethan Iverson combines simple, classically influenced melodies with a driving left hand that reminds us the piano is a percussion instrument, too.

Drummer Dave King goes beyond the standard techniques, at once all jittery around the kit, then pushing at his cymbals and drums with bare hands, scraping the tip of a drum stick across a cymbal (an unearthly tone perfect for the Halloween weekend), even brushing at the drum heads with his fingers.

Bassist Reid Anderson has developed an amazing tone on his upright bass and seems at times to be the heartbeat of the band, unpredictable yet solid.

No covers, no problem

The effect of the trio is suspenseful, playful, triumphant and always emotional.

The crowd, a mix of ages from high school kids to ol’ beboppers, peppered with costumes for the parties sure to follow the show around Capitol Hill, was kept on the edge of their seats. The audience was treated to a preview of many songs from their impending new release along with a handful of older favorites.

No one seemed disappointed at the lack of cover songs, which had become a staple at Bad Plus shows in the last decade. Only their version of Aphex Twin’s “Flim” (for the 2nd standing-ovation encore) was performed.

The new song “Wolf Out” was classic Bad Plus with a difficult to follow time signature, propulsive playing from all three, and a simple, hummable melody line. Another new one, “In Stitches” was epic – a slow building tune that began with King’s hand-drumming and built through extended solos from Anderson and Iverson to a mid-song jazz-rock party, finally drifting back the way they came, leaving all in attendance a little spent.

Back on stage in December

Earshot Jazz brought The Bad Plus for their Seattle debut at The Tractor Tavern years ago and it was wonderful to see them thrilling a near-capacity crowd at Town Hall, showing the increasing popularity of both the band and the non-profit.

Sadly, I won’t be in town to catch The Bad Plus playing more new compositions with the acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group at Seattle’s Moore Theatre Dec. 1-3, but I hope to catch ’em playing their twist on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” at Tacoma’s Broadway Center March 10th of next year.

Now, go out and enjoy more of the Earshot Jazz Festival, continuing through November 6th!

An evening of accolades and ‘hope’ with We Four and Sonando

We Four and Sonando was an inspired Earshot pairing Saturday at Town Hall. The concert was a tribute to two “restless geniuses” of jazz in one night.


Fred Hoadley’s long-lived and popular Latin Jazz group Sonando opened the show. In his introduction, Earshot director John Gilbreath praised Hoadley for his dedication and commitment to the project at hand, re-working music by Charles Mingus for Afro-Cuban rhythms.

It truly was a tall order: to take the dense, multi-layered and often complicated compositions of Mingus and add yet another facet to them is not a task that many musicians would seek out.

Sonando highlights

Sonando’s treatments of Pithecanthropus Erectus, Self Portrait in Three Colors and particularly Nostalgia in Times Square served to show the Mingus genius in a slightly different light. Hoadley’s arrangements, especially that of Meditations on Integration also seemed to bring forward the composer’s reverence for Duke Ellington. A highlight was the seldom-heard The I of Hurricane Sue featuring the three percussionists each on a different size of Batá drum.

All well done and well received by the audience, Hoadley and Sonando gave a spirited performance. They can be heard every third Thursday at Tula’s in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood.

We Four: Javon Jackson

Javon Jackson

We Four, the John Coltrane tribute quartet, is fronted by saxophonist Javon Jackson, whose many credits include graduation from Art Blakey’s “Hard Bop Academy,” the Jazz Messengers. Jackson has also taken part in tribute performances to Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon, and has recently convinced the great soul-jazz keyboardist and composer Les McCann to come out of retirement and do some touring.

Jackson was only half-joking when he said from the stage last night, “John Coltrane is the only man I dream about.”

In his stance, his attack and often in his sound, Jackson had moments when he did manage to channel the most mythological saxophonist of the modern jazz pantheon.

We Four: bassist and pianist

Bassist Nat Reeves, alternately burning up the strings and producing warm, round tones à la Paul Chambers throughout the performance was a delight to hear.

When pianist Mulgrew Miller explores a melody, you’ll hear things you’d never find on your own. His delicate solo on Naima was haunting, and the encore, Green Dolphin Street, truly became his own.

We Four: The star

The star of the evening, of course, was drummer Jimmy Cobb.

A NEA Jazz Master and the last remaining member of Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue band, Cobb was a friend to John Coltrane and worked with him in various settings. Cobb propelled the band through an incredibly up-tempo Impressions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. His solo on Mr. PC brought the audience to their feet. Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Cobb is 82 years old?

A local drummer seated near me was heard to exclaim, “He’s 82?!  There’s hope …”

Yes, there’s hope.  Thank you, Earshot Jazz, for bringing us hope.

On the Web:

Groove Notes begins Earshot Jazz Festival coverage with an interview with John Gilbreath

The Earshot Jazz Festival kicks off this Friday, Oct. 14, and runs through Nov. 6, and through the duration of the festival Groove Notes will be delivering in-depth ongoing coverage throughout.

Leading up to opening night, we will be posting posts and questions as part of a preview to the festival, and during the festival we will be bringing you reviews, updates, and most importantly, your feedback.

Heading to a show? Did you see an amazing performance, or have a chance to chat with one of the musicians from the festival? Be sure to share your thoughts with us, and use the hashtag #earshot when you do.

We start our preview of the Earshot Jazz Festival today with an interview with the executive director of Earshot, John Gilbreath. John gives us an overview of the festival, talks about local artists on the schedule and how some of them will be collaborating with national recording artists. He also shares with us information about some of the films being screened, some sub-thematic things scheduled to happen, the headliners and a few surprises.

Festival Overview

listen to audio

The festival will feature 60-plus concerts at 15 venues over the course of 24 days this year. Shows range from large concert halls to small clubs to community centers. There are some educational programs and a film series. There will also be a healthy emphasis on local artists, some who are currently local, some who have left town and returned for the festival, and some who will be teaming up with national and international recording artists.

“There is so much that wants to be done and needs to be done and should be done, and this is our attempt to do as much of it as we can.” – John Gilbreath

Local artists return

listen to audio

The festival begins with a celebration, featuring both the Roosevelt and Mountlake Terrace high school jazz bands that placed this year at the Essentially Ellington festival in New York. Immediately following that show, musicians Chris Speed and Jim Black return for a performance after originally meeting in Seattle high school bands in the 80’s.

Local musicians collaborate with national recording artists

listen to audio

Jay Clayton, Jerry Granelli, and Travis Shook are just a few musicians who have made a name on the national scene that will be working with local musicians such as Matt Jorgensen.



Jazz in film

listen to audio

Four films will be screened at the festival this year: And I Ride, And I Ride, A freewheeling improvisation on virtuoso guitarist Rodolphe Burger; Ne Change Rien, a Seattle premiere of a meditation on entrancing French chanteuse Jeanne Balibar; In My Mind, Seattle premiere of a portrait of Jason Moranʼs 2009 tribute to Thelonious Monk, with Eugene Smith’s just-unearthed photographs and recordings of Monk rehearsals; and Black February, Seattle premiere, with director in attendance, about legendary avant-gardist Butch Morrisʼs 2005 series celebrating 20 years of his revolutionary “conductions.”

Sub-thematic elements

listen to audio

A couple of shows will highlight the music of Robin Holcomb, who moved to the area from the East Village with husband Wayne Horvitz. Nov. 2 will feature the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra performing her music, as well as a small group featuring Robin and her music. Longtime collaborators Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Mark Taylor (sax), and Matt Jorgensen (drums) will be doing a live recording at Tula’s for an upcoming release on Origin records.

Festival headliners

listen to audio

Pianist Keith Jarrett returns with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette and is certain to be at the top of the heap for the festival this year. Also, pianist Brad Mehldau will be doing a solo concert at the Nordstrom Recital Hall, and The Bad Plus will be in concert at Town Hall.

“At the top of the mountain, the pinnacle, the peak, the Mt. Everest of any jazz festival has got to be Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, and in my mind judging by any set of criteria is the finest ensemble and made of the finest individuals in that kind of setting that is working in jazz today.” – John Gilbreath