Pianist Iverson is leaving The Bad Plus; ‘Lone Star Spirits’ is a tonic

Courtesy of the artists
The Bad Plus

After a lengthy, wildly creative and highly influential run, The Bad Plus – bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King – are calling it quits as a trio. Iverson will leave to pursue more of his own interests; Anderson and King will be joined by Orrin Evans at the keys. The Bad Plus will be new and different.

This will upset fans who love their distinctive sound and approach to music. Anderson, Iverson and King are the guys who first came to fame by taking Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” blowing it up and jazzing it up, which got critics’ attention, infuriated hard-core jazz fans and attracted scores of new music fans. They were accused of murdering jazz and hailed as its saviors. Since then, they have traveled the world numerous times and made 14 albums including a recording of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” performed on piano, bass and drums, and their latest, “It’s Hard,” which we’re trying not to read anything into. Whether in person (for example, during their now-traditional Christmas residency at the Dakota) or on their recordings, in original compositions and covers, they never failed to deliver the goods. And they never played anything the same way twice. 

We have long felt kind of proprietary about The Bad Plus. Anderson and King grew up in Minneapolis, Iverson in Wisconsin. We were at their first-ever concert at the old Dakota (Bandana Square) in 2001 and haven’t missed a year since. We’ve watched and listened as they became a big deal. We’ve spent many, many hours at their live performances and cranking their albums new and old. We’ve kind of been surprised they stayed together as long as they did, simply because most bands don’t. And we’re not at all worried about what will happen next. Iverson recently played a solo piano concert at the Dunsmore Room; more of that, please. We don’t know Orrin Evans, but we will, and we’re eager to hear what happens when he joins Anderson and King.

Photo by John Abbott
Orrin Evans

Here’s the message the band posted Monday on their Facebook page:

We will soon begin an exciting new chapter in our life as a band. As of January 1, 2018, The Bad Plus will consist of founding members Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums) and new member Orrin Evans (piano). Original pianist Ethan Iverson will finish out the 2017 touring schedule in support of the album It’s Hard, culminating in a New Year’s Eve gig at the Village Vanguard in New York City.

The Bad Plus have always been a band in the truest sense – a group of passionate collaborators with no single “leader.” That spirit will continue in full-force as we welcome Orrin into the group. This is not an act of replacement; no tryouts were held. We’ve known and respected Orrin as a musician and as a person for longer than The Bad Plus has existed. His heart and his talents are simply a perfect match to continue our trajectory.

A brand-new album featuring the refreshed lineup will be recorded this fall for release in 2018, with a supporting tour cycle to follow. The Bad Plus’ extensive songbook will continue to be represented at shows. We remain grateful to our supporters and invite you along with new listeners to be an integral part of our evolution and the exciting music it’s sure to deliver.

Nate Chinen, former jazz writer for the New York Times, now with WBGO, talked with all three band members, and each makes it sound like he’s ready for a change. Since they’ve said they’ll finish out 2017 together, we’ll expect to see them at the Dakota for Christmas. Our only unfulfilled wish (so far; we might come up with more) is for a recording of their version of Ornette Coleman’s “Science Fiction,” commissioned in 2014 by Duke Performances, which also commissioned the Stravinsky. We hope that exists somewhere, and that someday we get to hear it.

‘Lone Star Spirits’ is a winner

If there is any justice left in the world, the new play at the Jungle, “Lone Star Spirits,” will be a hit. Get your tickets now. It’s a play with everything going for it: a good story, a witty script, a cast that clicks, a strong production, a won’t-gobble-your-evening length (about 90 minutes, no intermission). We can’t remember the last time we were in a theater where the audience laughed so often, so hard, and without a touch of bitterness or irony. Josh Tobiessen has written a very funny play.

Plus – and this will matter a lot to some people – Sarah Bahr’s set is the kind that was the Jungle’s signature during the Bain Boehlke days. Realistic and jam-packed with details. Stuff on shelves. Vintage props. A sense of space and spaciousness. When characters go to the door at the back, open it, and look out, you believe there’s something out there to see. We’ve heard grumbling about the minimalist, stylized sets of some recent Jungle plays. If you’re among the discontents, come on back.

Set in a run-down liquor store in a dying Texas town where even the high school has closed, “Lone Star State” brings together six disparate characters: Walter (Terry Hempleman), the rangy, laid-back proprietor; Drew (Nate Cheeseman), the former high-school football hero who never left town; Jessica (Christian Bardin), the party girl and single mom whose husband died in Afghanistan; Marley (Thallis Santesteban), Walter’s long-absent daughter, back for a brief visit to introduce her fiancé and take care of some business; Ben (John Catron), the hilariously clueless, smartphone-toting hipster fiancé; and a benevolent ghost named Henry Whitman, the town’s founder.

Photo by Dan Norman
Nate Cheeseman (Drew) and Terry Hempleman (Walter) in “Lone Star Spirits.”

If Hempleman looks totally at home on the Jungle’s stage, it’s because his history with the theater reaches back 25 years, to the first season in the Lake Street storefront. It’s awfully good to see him again. Bardin has an epic gasp. Catron, with his city haircut and leather suspenders, is a hoot. All the characters are stereotypes, but endearingly so. There’s no snark in the playwright’s pen. The story moves along, and you think you have things figured out, and then there’s a gotcha so surprising and sweet that it passed like a shiver through the opening night crowd. A woman seated near us said “Marvelous!” out loud. Everyone who sees “Lone Star Spirits” should swear not to spill the beans.

Fun fact: Josh Tobiessen is Sarah Rasmussen’s husband, and Rasmussen — the Jungle’s artistic director — is also the director of the play.

Overheard in the lobby after: “That’s the best play I’ve seen in years.” Truly, it’s a tonic and a solid good time. We’ve just come through a long winter, and before then an endless year. We could use a laugh. There are plenty to be had in “Lone Star Spirits.” Ends May 7. FMI and tickets ($35-45).

And the Minnesota Book Awards go to …

Close to 900 book lovers crowded into the InterContinental Hotel in St. Paul on Saturday to learn the winners of the 29th Annual Minnesota Book Awards. Giving the lie to the saying that prophets are never recognized in their own hometown, these popular annual awards, handed out every year but one since 1988, honor our own.

The award for children’s literature went to J.J. Austrian for “Worm Loves Worm,” illustrated by Mike Curato. Shawn Otto won the general nonfiction category for “The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It,” published by Milkweed Editions. This was Otto’s second Minnesota Book Award. Allen Eskens won the genre fiction award for his mystery “The Heavens May Fall.”

Hmong-American author Kao Kalia Yang, whose book “The Latehomecomer” won a 2009 Minnesota Book Award and was a finalist for a PEN Award, took the memoir and creative nonfiction category for “The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father.” The award for middle grade literature went to Brian Farrey for “The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse,” a modern fairytale. Cheri Register accepted the Minnesota nonfiction award for “’The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape,” published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Peter Geye’s epic family tale “Wintering” took the award for novel and short story. The poetry award was won by Sun Yung Shin for “Unbearable Splendor,” published by Coffee House Press. Shin is also the editor of the anthology “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota.” The award for young adult literature went to Lara Avery for “The Memory Book.”

Awards announced earlier in the year were handed out to their winners at the ceremony, which was emceed by MPR’s Tom Weber, author of “100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die.” Steven McCarthy received the 10th annual Book Artist Award for his “Wee Go Library” project, a mobile collection of 22 altered books found in Little Free Libraries throughout the Twin Cities. Lou Bellamy received the Kay Sexton Award for more than four decades of championing African American literature.

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