When the Bad Plus announced in May 2017 that pianist Ethan Iverson would leave the band at year end and pianist Orrin Evans would step in, a lot of people wondered how that would work.
The Bad Plus had been the same three people since late December 2000, when they played their first gig at the old Dakota in Bandana Square. For thousands of shows, the band was always Reid Anderson on bass, Iverson on piano and Dave King on drums, with only the rare guest and never a sub.
From the start, the band had its own sound. Would it change with Evans on the bench?
In December 2017, the original trio had their final Christmas residency at the Dakota. They still played at a high level, but they were ready to go their separate ways. Those were the first Bad Plus concerts we heard where the band repeated sets and played nothing new.
By then, Anderson and King had already recorded their first studio album with Evans. “Never Stop II” came out in January 2018. It sounded like the Bad Plus, but with more blues. More bounce. More softness around the edges of the notes. Iverson’s notes have gleaming, polished edges.
The new Bad Plus came to the Dakota for Christmas 2018. They had been touring for a year. They were happy to be together and it showed. Their playing was bright and optimistic. More than once, Evans laughed out loud from the piano.
In October 2019, they released their second studio album, “Activate Infinity.” The first track, “Avail,” bursts forth with a kind of infectious joy. “Slow Reactors” skips down the sidewalk. “Looking in Your Eyes,” penned by Evans, is a beautiful, melancholy ballad.
The band revisits two tracks from earlier albums, “Thrift Store Jewelry” from “Prog” (2007) and “Love Is the Answer” from “The Bad Plus,” also called “Motel” (2000 – the original group’s debut album). If you’re a Bad Plus nerd, listening to both versions is an aha experience. Iverson’s notes are individuals, with spaces between them; Evans’ are more fluid and shoulder-to-shoulder. Evans adds more ornaments, small pianistic flourishes that embellish a melody.
And they’re still the Bad Plus. Since the last time they were here, they have toured even more furiously, playing multiple dates nearly every month, hitting clubs and festivals across the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Now seasoned road warriors, they’ll be back next week for their 20th annual holiday residency at the Dakota. Four nights of music, starting on Christmas night. FMI and tickets ($40/45).
Closing soon at Mia: “American Art and the Vietnam War.” Two exhibitions present art created during and after the United States’ conflict with Vietnam. Organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975” brings together nearly 100 works by 58 artists including Judy Chicago, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Yoko Ono and Faith Ringgold. Organized by Mia’s Robert Cozzolino, “Artists Reflect: Contemporary Views on the Vietnam War” picks up where “Artists Respond” left off, featuring works by Southeast Asian diaspora artists who explore the ongoing legacy of the war on their communities. It includes drawings, textiles, video, photography and installation works by Tiffany Chung, Po Houa Her, Cy Thao and Thi Bui. Both shows are on view in the Target Galleries. Tickets here ($20/16/free). Closes Jan. 5.
Saturday at the Parkway: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Business is up at the Parkway Theater as people have discovered it’s just more fun to watch movies in community. Eddie Landenberger and Ward Johnson did a great job with the renovations, adding a classy Art Deco vibe, ample leg room and a bar with custom cocktails. Sniffle along with a crowd when Clarence earns his wings. 12:30 p.m. doors, 1 p.m. screening. FMI and tickets ($8-5).
Saturday at the Black Dog: Raymond/Morrissey/King and the Zacc Harris Group. John Raymond and Chris Morrissey both grew up in the Twin Cities before heading out – Raymond to New York, then Indiana University as professor of jazz trumpet, Morrissey to New York and a career as an in-demand bassist and music director. King still lives here but spends much of his time on the road with the Bad Plus. Lucky for us, they all come home for the holidays. For Steve Kenny’s ongoing Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog series, those three will play the opening set at 7 p.m., followed by the Zacc Harris Group at 9 p.m. with Harris on guitar, Javier Santiago on piano, Chris Bates on bass and JT Bates on drums. No cover, but show some love to the tip jar. Or reserve a seat for $20.
Sunday at the Jimmy Wilson Gallery in Linden Hills: Jim Bohen. St. Paul poet Bohen (“I Travel in Rusting Burned-Out Sedans”) will launch a new poetry series called “Poetry and Pillows.” Bring a pillow to sit on, but please, no portable chairs. Seating is limited. 4304 Upton Ave. S. 1:30 p.m. P.S. This gallery is in the same neighborhood as the Wild Rumpus bookstore.
Holiday picks: winter lights and gingerbread houses
Why pay for a holiday lights show when you can drive around neighborhoods for free? Because most neighborhoods don’t have a 25-foot poinsettia tree or a 14-vignette walking tour that includes lighted chrysanthemums, a syncopated light show, a waterfall of lights, a winter rose garden, s’mores and lots of photo ops. The Landscape Arboretum is part of the University of Minnesota, so you’ll also learn about the work of U of M researchers are doing to create plants that will thrive as our climate changes. 5-9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Dec. 20-22. Also Dec. 23, 26 and 30, Jan. 1 and 2. FMI and tickets ($15 adults, children and members free).
Norway House is hosting its annual “Gingerbread Wonderland” display of crunchy frosted structures made by community members and local bakers. You’ll recognize familiar buildings and landmarks from the Twin Cities and beyond. In the Gallery. $5 for 12 and older, free for members and under 12. FMI. Closes Sunday, Jan. 5.