AFTER PUTTING THEIR
UNIQUE STAMP ON MUSIC BY ARTISTS SUCH AS NIRVANA,
RUSH, AND NEIL YOUNG, REID ANDERSON & THE BAD PLUS
HAVE TAKEN ON THEIR MOST FORMIDABLE CHALLENGE YET
WITH STRAVINSKY’S THE RITE OF SPRING.
REID ANDERSON HAS NEVER BEEN ONE TO BACK AWAY
from a musical challenge. In fact, his entire career has been based on setting
the bar so high that he is forced to evolve his playing to rise to the
occasion time and time again. That seems to be at the core of his jazz trio
the Bad Plus. Commanding the upright bass in a piano, drums, and bass
outfit, Anderson often finds himself holding down the foundation while
also having to extend himself to cover melodic and harmonic ranges—and
all while improvising and soloing through uncharted terrain.
After forming in Minnesota in 2000 and moving to New York, the trio
gained immediate recognition for bridging the gap between jazz and popular music by infusing odd time signatures, intricate phrasings, and
unexpected twists into the music of artists such as Pink Floyd,
Nirvana, Rush, and David Bowie. More impressive yet is their
original material, which somehow dives so deep into the inner
workings of conceptual jazz that it emerges from the other side
as palatable hits. So, given their natural ambition, it came as no
surprise that when Duke University commissioned them as their
artists in residence in 2011, they decided to tackle the immensely
difficult classical piece The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.
The end result is a masterful reinterpretation where Anderson’s
bass work takes command, leading drummer Dave King
and pianist Ethan Iverson through the difficult and seldom-repeating
charts while infusing distinct Bad Plus nuances into
it. Anderson once again challenged himself by taking on roles
that far exceed the bass, as his fleet finger work often mimics
the melody of the horns and the ominous undertones of the
string sections. And while he is known for creating tension with
space, Anderson keeps his fingers continuously moving through
the rigorous 11 movements during the Bad Plus’ performances
of the composition.
|From left: pianist Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and drummer David King.
While Anderson and company are still touring to support
The Rite of Spring, they are beginning to move on to their next
project, which is their ninth studio album of original material.
Anderson’s booming, natural tone sonically drives the new
batch of songs, as his creative lines and unorthodox improvisation
will keep listeners guessing what’s coming next. But often,
not even Anderson quite knows what’s next. And that’s exactly
the way he prefers it.
How did you guys first come up with the idea to tackle The
Rite of Spring?
Duke University does some great commissioning of jazz musicians,
and that has enabled us to do larger-scale works that wouldn’t
usually be possible for us. It was probably because of our version of
[Stravinsky’s] Apollo that we did previously, and a few other classical
compositions that we’d done in the past. The idea was actually tossed out by another party for us to do The Rite of Spring, and
it just made a lot of sense. It was incredibly intimidating
because it’s a tremendous amount of work,
but in the end it was the definitely sexiest idea.
How did you approach this work from a
I didn’t approach it focusing on the bass part
from the score. We’re a trio of just piano, bass, and
drums, so we had to conceive a way to fill out the
entire score and cover its full spectrum. For me,
the important part was to figure out which components
I could cover with the bass. So, sometimes I
was playing a French horn part or a bassoon section.
I had to find the places where we could convey
the piece more than figuring out what the specific
bass part was for that section from an orchestration
How was this different from the pieces you’d
covered in the past?
With The Rite of Spring it was all about the details.
Our intentions were to really play it as it is meant
to be played. In the past when we do our own versions
of other people’s music, we have some freedom
to play around, especially if we’re doing something
like a Nirvana tune. We improvise a little within the
framework. But with Rite of Spring we didn’t feel
that we could do that and be true to it. The notes
and the score and its interworkings are all so crucial,
so it was a matter of paying attention to all of
What was the recording process like?
We went into the studio and played it all together
and did it all in record time. I think it took us about
four hours total to track the whole thing. We had
two days, so the first day we went in there and got
the sounds, and then the next day we just went in
and hit it.
What is your typical studio setup?
I send a direct signal through a high-quality direct
box. I usually use a Demeter Tube DI. I also mic my
bass as well to get another signal to add on top of
it. I don’t have a particular miking method that I
do every time. I set it up with the engineer, and we
see what the best sounds are that we can come up
with. It differs with every studio session, but I feel
it’s best to adapt to what is available at the time.
How has your playing progressed?
I hope that I’ve become more of myself and
have more confidence in my musical identity. In
the early days there was always that voice that
said, “It would be better if you sounded more like
Charlie Haden.” As all of us mature, we accept our
own voice more and more, so hopefully that comes
through in my playing.
Has your technique changed over the years?
It has stayed the same for the most part. With
my left hand I try to have a solid technique in terms
of how my hands are always working together to get
the best sound and get the best intonation. I try
to play in a way that is relaxed and in a way that is
responsive to my instrument and the environment
we’re playing in. It’s not something I’m conscious
of anymore, really; it’s more so just a function of
what I do as a player.
What is your ideal upright bass tone?
I want it to sound as natural as possible. We
do have to amplify through a direct signal, which
is fine. But I like that not to be an obvious part of
the sound. The more acoustic it sounds, the better
it is. One thing you get from the DI is that you can
accentuate the lower frequencies more. The way that
you hear your sounds impacts how you translate it as well. Everyone hears things differently, and you
try to manifest what you’re hearing.
You often borrow basses for shows when
you’re out on tour.
Yes, it’s bass du jour. I just don’t fly with my
bass anymore. I did it for a good ten years, and
fought the good fight, but it’s just not possible
anymore. It’s so stressful having to fight with
someone at the airport every trip, and my bass
got destroyed a couple of times, too. Occasionally
I’ll be faced with an unplayable instrument. I’m
not overly picky, and all that I ask for is that it’s
playable. Sometimes you don’t have that luxury,
and that can be frustrating.
What’s going on in your head when the Bad
Plus is onstage?
We’re all constantly responding to each other
every given moment. There isn’t much of a defined
role in the band for each of us. We can all step in and
pull the rug out from each other at any given time,
or take over a lead or supportive role. It isn’t a typical
situation where I’m the bassist so I just have to
do the bass player parts; we’re all listening intensely
and are trying to have a creative response to what’s
happening. At the same time, I’m the bass player and
I love the role of the bass, so I’m not trying to not
play that role. I guess I’m trying to fulfill that role
while finding ways to respond and shape the music
that is outside of what the traditional role would be.
What excites you about improvisation?
I like the mystery of it. Improvisation can get you
to some serious places in a way that written music
can’t. I like the spontaneity and the responsibility of
it, too. It’s not an intellectual exercise, so you have
to be emotionally engaged and not hung up on the
technicalities of what you’re doing.
When did you first begin playing the bass?
I started playing the acoustic bass when I was
a senior in high school. I wanted to play jazz and
I had been playing electric bass, and I called up a
local bass teacher in Minneapolis because I wanted
to take lessons, and he told me to get an upright if
I wanted to play jazz. So that kind of started me off.
But luckily it came pretty naturally to me.
When was the period of greatest growth
for you as a player?
There have been a couple. I was in the Curtis
Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which is a
strictly classical music conservatory, and that was
an important part in my development. Just playing
my instrument and thinking about how I really
wanted to play. And then of course moving to New
York was a big step. When you come here you really have to hit it, because you’re surrounded by so many
other great musicians who are here to be the best
that they can be.
What did you learn once you entered the
You have to really find yourself as a musician.
You have to think about what you want from music
and what kind of music you ultimately want to
play. For me it’s not about being the guy who gets
hired for any gig. It became very clear to me that
I wanted to play a certain kind of music, and I
wanted to play it my way, and that was an important
thing for me to realize. I wouldn’t be happy
getting calls to fulfill a role. I want to play with
people who want to work together for the sound I
create and the way I play.
The Bad Plus,
The Rite of Spring
[Sony Music, 2014]
Basses 1930s Juzek Czech upright
Pickup Fishman Full Circle upright
Strings Gamut gut strings on D and G,
Thomastik Spirocore Light strings on
E and A