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PopMATTERS interviews Ethan Iverson

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The Bad Plus may not always play by the rules, but that doesn't mean they haven't come up with their own rules. The limber, Minneapolis-born trio of bassist, drummer, and pianist have played on the same stage for 15 years, and while they've undeniably grown as instrumentalists, many things have remained constant. Since their inception, Ethan, drummer Dave King, and bassist Reid Anderson have tackled an eclectic mix of cover songs and original compositions.

Their fascination with pop by way of jazz all started at an early gig when, for lack of a set's worth original material, they intuitively opted to play, not standards, but rather ‘90s anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Though as Ethan stresses, capturing the spirit of the original piece is hardly their main concern. The Bad Plus' focus is to deconstruct and reassemble familiar musical artifacts from their own perspective. So don't mistake them for no house band.

In the past, they've taken on Bowie, Blondie, Radiohead, Rush, and… Igor Stravinsky? In 2014, we spoke with the band about their complete overhaul of the revolutionary and riot-inciting, Rite of Spring, one of their most ambitious projects to date. Most recently, the Bad Plus recorded It's Hard, an album exclusively of covers, featuring reworked classics by Prince and Ornette Coleman, among others.

Understandably, Ethan speaks with great poise about the band he calls home. When I asked how Dave approached the drum part in the ordinarily drum-less Rite of Spring, he answered: "Well, he's a genius that applied everything he knew about music to figure out what would work." And about his bassist: "I think pretty soon you'll be seeing some brilliant Reid Anderson albums of his own electronic music."

The three have many decades of combined experience in improvisational, rock, electronic, and classical circuits and have collaborated with numerous luminaries. They approach each project with respect, proving masters of domains both somber and frantic, refusing to stay in their seats. Yet despite the intricate and restive arrangements, it remain one of the more palatable jazz groups I've ever heard. Far from esoteric, as avant-garde jazz tends to be, the Bad Plus aims for clarity. "I don't think obviousness is unhip," Ethan says: "If you listen to what we're doing with the songs on It's Hard, there shouldn't be any doubt about why we're doing the songs or why we're playing them the way we are."

When PM spoke with Ethan, the Bad Plus was halfway through a six-show series at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club. He spoke with composure, because with more than a dozen Bad Plus records under his belt, six consecutive shows probably isn't such a big deal. Heck, they've survived digitization of the industry, the Sony rootkit scandal, and an age in which jazz might as well be pronounced dead. And still, they've emerged as creative and badass as ever. In answer to what's next for the band, Ethan replied: "I know what the next thing is going to be, but I don't know if I'm allowed to announce it yet. Let's just keep the focus on this record." He laughed, "Christ man, we already did a whole record of covers for us to talk about."

READ THE PopMATTERS Q&A