Thursday 12 December 2019


Pat Kelly

National Concert Hall

The Bad Plus, an extraordinary trio of musicians by any standard, are on a short Irish tour appearing in Dublin, Kildare, Sligo, Limerick and ending in Cork on Thursday.

The main work on their visit is Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring' arranged by, and most likely for, themselves -- Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; and Dave King drums.

Unveiled at the National Concert Hall at the weekend this 'Rite' proves a fascinating experience. The whittling down of Stravinsky's 100 musicians to three is quite an achievement.

Besides, in the reconstruction, the music of the original loses none of its barbaric intensity and, in fact, the trio's version seems to inject extra lucidity.

One is hearing the bare essentials, admittedly with positive elements of force and vibrant colour, but unencumbered by the density of the composer's instrumental forces. The brilliance of the three Bad Plus artists, particularly Iverson, is phenomenal.

The arrangement sticks mostly to the original although the final bars get a short extension that removes the abruptness of Stravinsky's conclusion.

However, for all the points in its favour, for me, there is a distinct disadvantage. This Bad Plus view of Stravinsky's ballet comes with a fairly continuous video projection.

Beginning rather hazily, one is uncertain whether or not the images are properly focused. I find the result a distracting irritant and breathe a sigh of relief when, from time to time, the screen blanks out and the musicians are bathed in an orange or green glow. Whatever about Nijinsky's 1913 choreography in Paris, the explosive music really is sufficient on its own.

The rest of the programme brings a series of Bad Plus hits. Composed by Anderson, 'Giant' is a lengthy piece beginning with a touch of melancholy in the bass solo. In a kind of arched construction, the piece rises powerfully and then returns to its poignant beginning.

King's 'Wolf Out' is more energetic with its rhythmic pulse and there are shades of Stravinsky, too, in Iverson's piano forays.

There are further eruptions in 'And here we test our powers of observation' and 'Never Stop' and there are two new pieces, in a similar volatile vein, from a soon-to-be-released album.

All in all, a unique experience enthusiastically received by an ecstatic audience.

Irish Independent

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