Reminded that it had been nearly two years since Orrin Evans replaced original pianist Ethan Iverson in the collaborative trio the Bad Plus, bassist Reid Anderson replies with a chuckle, “Yeah, gosh. Time flies.”
The reconstituted and re-energized Bad Plus — Anderson, Evans, and drummer Dave King — will celebrate the release on Friday of “Activate Infinity,” their second album as a band, with four sets this weekend at Scullers.
They’ve been keeping busy separately as well, with Evans and King both on the West Coast a couple of weeks ago — Evans leading a new trio with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, King and bassist Jorge Roeder backing guitarist Julian Lage, as they had on Lage’s trio album from earlier this year, “Love Hurts."
Anderson was home in Brooklyn at the time, though about to hit the road with Evans and King for a few dates in Chile before commencing the US tour that is bringing them to Scullers. But he and King have a new group with Craig Taborn, Golden Valley Is Now, named for the Minneapolis suburb where the three met as middle-schoolers. That group released an album of that name last month and plans to tour in 2020.
Evans, meanwhile, has an album in production with his other collaborative trio, Tarbaby, and his Captain Black Big Band album “Presence” was a 2019 Grammy nominee for best large jazz ensemble album.
Iverson, it must be said, has also been faring well since his departure after 17 years as the group’s pianist. He performed in or near Boston twice last week: at New England Conservatory as part of a tribute to the school’s late alumnus Cecil Taylor, and at the Regattabar celebrating his new quartet album featuring Tom Harrell, “Common Practice,” a recording consisting primarily of superlative interpretations of jazz standards.
The Bad Plus has never focused on standards, but it did forge a reputation early on for reconstructing more recent popular music, with covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” and Aphex Twin’s “Flim” on the original trio’s 2003 breakthrough album “These Are the Vistas.”
But the Bad Plus had avoided pop covers in recent years, until producing an entire album of them for Iverson’s final recording with the band, the 2016 release “It’s Hard.” They’ve recorded none since, and mostly stick to their own compositions in concert.
“We never really played a lot of that stuff live,” says Anderson, “and people that are fans of the band, when they come to shows they’re rarely asking for, you know, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ People are happy if we play it, but people know our original music.”
“Even going back to Ethan, I don’t think there was ever a time that they sat there and said, ‘Hey! We wanna be known for doing covers!’ ” observes Evans, laughing. “To be honest, since I’ve been in the band we haven’t done any. Well, except for ‘Flim.’ ”
The closest they come to covers on their new album are new versions of previously recorded pieces of their own. King’s “Thrift Shop Jewelry,” for example, first appeared on the 2007 album “Prog.” According to Anderson, King “was just so thrilled with how Orrin was playing it — it felt like it had a new life to it.”
Evans had recorded “Looking Into Your Eyes,” a lovely ballad for his wife, on the 1999 Bobby Watson album “Quiet As It’s Kept.” Anderson’s “Love Is the Answer” was on the Bad Plus’s eponymous 2001 debut album, and his song “Undersea Reflection,” though hitherto unrecorded, was also written in the late ’90s. “I was always just kind of looking for an opportunity,” he says.
Then there’s the new stuff. King contributed “Dovetail Nicely,” which features Evans alternating a simple piano line with flights of improvisation over bass and drum support. Evans’s new one, “The Red Door,” is the album’s most abstract piece. It was written not, as some might guess, in homage to the red door leading into the Village Vanguard, but for a Chicago club called The Red Room.
“No, it’s not about the Vanguard,” explains Evans, speaking from Portland, Ore. "It was a last-minute concert we did because something else was canceled. So this venue popped up. Really, really nice people. They’re, like, artists themselves. Not a great piano or anything, but it’s just a really nice space.”
Anderson contributed the two new pieces that open the album, “Avail” and “Slow Reactors.” The first has a simple but catchy repeated piano figure propelled by energetic bass and drums, with Evans adding some exuberant playing partway through.
"Slow Reactors” exudes lyrical and harmonic grace. It belongs among Anderson’s best compositions, which is saying something. King and Evans are both accomplished and prolific composers, but Anderson has contributed an outsize proportion of the Bad Plus repertoire.
“I’ve written the most music in the band,” Anderson acknowledges. “I guess that’s the way I kind of view myself: as a writer of music. And I happen to play the bass, which is just a means to participate in the music, really.”
He’s being overly modest. Like Evans and King, Anderson is among the best of his generation on his instrument — as is particularly discernible on the new album, where his playing on “Slow Reactors” would do his hero Charlie Haden proud.
And the band sounds even better live. Told they sounded energized with Evans on piano at the Newport Jazz Festival this past summer, Anderson agrees.
“Orrin’s a very improvisatory player, and plays with a lot of fire and excitement and joy,” he observes. “We can’t help but respond to that in kind.”
Bill Beuttler can be reached at email@example.com.
THE BAD PLUS
At Scullers Jazz Club. Oct. 25-26, 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets from $35, 866-777-8932, www.scullersjazz.com