The Bad Plus is known for its clever re-imaginings of songs associated with rock, pop and classical music. But when it's show time, the critically acclaimed jazz trio favors spontaneity over calculation. "We have a pretty large repertoire at this point, and the band has been together for ten years strong now, so we just kind of decide about five minutes before we go on stage what we're going to play," says bassist Reid Anderson.
"If we have a multi-night run, and if we hit on a couple of sets that are really working, we might play those sets for most or all of the run," he continues. "But we also like to change it up all the time, too, because we don't want to get into a rut or a routine or anything like that. We always try to have a mixture of old and new. There are always songs that haven't been recorded yet, and every once in a while we'll say, 'What haven't we played in a long time?'"
2010 is the fourth consecutive year that Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King have started with a week of performances at Jazz at the Bistro. "It was one of those really happy incidences where you go some place and you just really hit it off with the people," Anderson says. "The audiences were really responsive, and it was just a great feeling. It was mutually agreed upon by us and Bob [Bennett, Jazz St. Louis operations manager] and Gene [Dobbs Bradford, JSL's executive director] that we should try to do this every year if we can."
In an era when jazz musicians commonly skip from project to project, The Bad Plus' improvisational approach is grounded in a longtime partnership. "The basis of it is that there's a lot of trust between us. We have such a long relationship, and we sort of speak the same language in many senses," he says. "The reason the Bad Plus sounds like it does is because it's a situation where all three of us can truly be who we are. It's not a situation where anyone is trying to support a leader of a band, or someone's specific concept. There's a certain energy to that that's been important to us from the beginning, to really define ourselves that way."
In March, they'll begin recording the follow-up to their 2009 CD For All I Care, which featured singer Wendy Lewis and a typically diverse menu of covers. This time, however, they'll concentrate exclusively on their own compositions. "The next record is definitely going to be an all-original record," said Anderson. "Even though the covers have gotten a lot of attention, it's never been the majority of what we do."
(The Bad Plus performs at 8:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., Wednesday, January 6, through Saturday, January 9, at Jazz at the Bistro, 3536 Washington Boulevard. $30 Wednesday and Thursday, $35 Friday and Saturday. 314-531-1111.)