Music Review

The Bad Plus jazzes up ‘Rite of Spring’

Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King at the ICA.
Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe
Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King at the ICA.

After his band the Bad Plus worked through an exhilarating 45-minute passage of music Friday night, bassist Reid Anderson deadpanned into a microphone, “That was a song by Igor Stravinsky called ‘Rite of Spring.’ ”

As if the sold-out crowd giving the Bad Plus a standing ovation in the theater at the Institute of Contemporary Art needed reminding.

Playing seriously but not being stuffy about it is part of the Bad Plus’s allure. Sure the Bad Plus chose “an important work” to perform when Duke University commissioned the jazz trio to create a long-form piece, but the Boston premiere of “On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ ” was as psychedelic as it was lofty. Impressionistic films and mood-accentuating lighting enhanced the performance which itself ran from manic to mournful.


At the first of their two ICA concerts, pianist Ethan Iverson, drummer David King, and Reid arrived on a dimly lit stage and sandwiched between two projection screens. Blurry pastoral images flashed in stereo — in front of and behind the musicians — as scratchy orchestral recordings mixed into the introductory music.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

When the front screen pulled away after a few minutes, the action took off with Iverson, Reid, and King engaging in dramatic, dynamic swells and lulls that rivaled a fully orchestrated airing of the work. The demands of “Rite” showcased not only the skills of the individual players but also the chemistry and cohesiveness of the Bad Plus itself. Each musician at times played in the forefront, and there were several ensemble forays that found Reid, Iverson, and King running amok before returning to a common ground within a bass note’s thump.

The Bad Plus’s interpretation worked on many levels. Placing an emphasis on rhythm and tempo, the trio accentuated how “Rite” is as much a dance piece as it is a listening one. And the band connected Stravinsky’s modernism to its descendents. “Rhapsody in Blue,” for instance, seemed to echo from parts of the “Sacrifice” movements as crafted by the Bad Plus.

The link from past to present was even more apparent when the Bad Plus played songs from “Made Possible,” its most recent record, after the “Sacred Ground” portion of the concert. In its own work, the Bad Plus crafted thematic sweeps and moments of tension with the same sort of colorful juxtapositions found in “Rite.”

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail