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Swing Time: The Bad Plus On Their New Lineup, New Album

Richard Gehr | April 14, 2018

“We’re truly the road band of all time,” declares Dave King, drummer for The Bad Plus. “Who else? Show me the jazz band that has played 160 shows a year for 15 years, and maybe 75 gigs its first three years, without a lineup change. It’s truly astonishing.”

That adds up to nearly 2,500 shows—a number that stopped rising on Dec. 31, 2017, when co-founding pianist Ethan Iverson departed the leaderless jazz-pop trio, which played together for the first time in bassist Reid Anderson’s Golden Valley, Minn. living room in the summer of 1990. “I felt what we had the first time we played together,” King says. “It was just, ‘Whoa!’” The first Bad Plus shows took place in December 2000, and they performed with Iverson for the final time during their annual New Year’s Eve run at the Manhattan jazz sanctuary, The Village Vanguard.

Iverson announced his departure from The Bad Plus in November 2016 to Anderson and King, who then went public in an April Facebook post, adding that the highly regarded Philadelphia keyboardist Orrin Evans would replace Iverson as of Jan. 1, 2018. The new trio played their first shows in St. Louis in mid-January, with an album due out on iTunes and that month. (The LP edition came out in February.)

Friction between Iverson and his bandmates had been brewing for years, so his departure, according to King, “definitely wasn’t out of nowhere.” By way of explanation, Iverson told Minnesota’s Star Tribune: “I felt, personally, too uncomfortable, and also felt like the statement had been made.” Anderson, meanwhile, took a long pause when I asked him what happened. “I don’t think the issue is something I can describe to you in this interview,” he said before going off the record. What he would say is this: “It’s been a long time coming. Ethan wanted to leave the band, and he has our blessing to do so.”

All three members speak with pride about the beautifully eccentric music they made together, their mutual friendship holding fast for decades until it started to fray. King says that, for several years, he’d felt like either one of his bandmates “would quit any moment.” Anderson and King, who’ve known each other since junior high, had long felt that Iverson was drawing away from the group, with King coming to resent the “mopey energy” of the bandmate who he also describes as “one of the most brilliant musicians on the planet Earth.”