The Bad Plus Q&A Preview and Exclusive MP3: “You and I Is a Comfort Zone”

November 19, 2008
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

Infused with the energy of a hard-rock outfit, The Bad Plus wields its jazz chops with considerable force. In anticipation of the trio’s forthcoming covers album, For All I Care, ALARM has an exclusive MP3 streamer of “You and I Is a Comfort Zone,” an original song that will only be included on the album’s vinyl edition.

And in contrast to that usual rock energy, “You and I Is a Comfort Zone” is one of the trio’s most melodic, straightforward numbers. Listen to the track below and catch a preview of our interview with pianist Ethan Iverson that will appear in ALARM 34 in January.

The Bad Plus: “You and I Is a Comfort Zone”
The Bad Plus: \”You and I Is a Comfort Zone\”

Q&A preview

Cover songs have always been a part of your repertoire. How much have the covers helped the group’s popularity outside of jazz circles?

It definitely has helped. As a lifetime jazz listener, I’ve always liked hearing jazz musicians play covers. It’s such an incredible gateway to learning about what a musician is up to — especially an instrumental improvising musician — if you know the tune already.

And of course, this isn’t just a jazz tradition. Mozart, Chopin, List, and even Bach would take popular tunes of the day and make variations on them.

The second that Bellini wrote a popular tune in Europe, Franz List would make a paraphrase of it to play for his audience, so that they would know the tune and he could show off what he could do with it. So it’s a really grand tradition that way.

We’ve always been interested in a clear statement of the song, on some level, even if we’re sort of destroying it.

You (Ethan) were quoted as saying, “It never occurred to me that rock would be part of the solution.” How have rock elements shaped the band’s existence?

I think that everybody in the band — we’re very concerned about a band identity and the three of us being equals. But a question like this probably gets even more to how each of us feels about this stuff in terms of our own personal development.

I didn’t really grow up listening to a lot of rock music. Of course, on some level, I was surrounded by it; you can’t grow up in America without some basic knowledge. But in a way, I was just the ultimate music geek, just amassing my jazz records or classical records and not really interfacing with popular culture.

It wasn’t until really working with [bassist] Reid [Anderson] and [drummer] Dave [King] that there was this sort of revelation to me, like, ‘Of course, jazz needs to remain music of the streets, on some level, to be truly successful,’ and this was the way to do it.

I wouldn’t be able to do it, probably, with people other than Reid and Dave, who are so dedicated to rock music and are not at all tourists. I, admittedly, am a bit of a tourist, but it’s in their lifeblood, so it works out.

On For All I Care, vocalist Wendy Lewis joins you and gives spot-on renditions of the songs’ original vocals. How much does having Wendy handle vocal lines free you on piano and Reid on bass?

We’ve always been interested in a clear statement of the song, on some level, even if we’re sort of destroying it. I don’t know how much it really freed up me and Reid, but it certainly gave us the opportunity to explore more colors at times.

– Scott Morrow

By November 19, 2008
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