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Given that David King, Ethan Iverson, and Reid Anderson all grew up together in Minnesota, it's not surprising that the Bad Plus's very first show was at the Dakota back when the club was still in St. Paul's Bandana Square. But it might be a little more surprising to learn that the New York-based trio's upcoming three-night stand (December 25–27) will be their 10th consecutive holiday spent at the Minneapolis jazz club that gave them their start.
King, who's usually out on the road with one of his many projects (including avant-garde trio Happy Apple, indie pop band Halloween, Alaska, meta-progressive combo Gang Font feat. Interloper, and improvisational quartet Buffalo Collision), has been back in the Twin Cities now for over a month, so we took advantage of this break in his heavy schedule to catch up.
City Pages: You work in a lot of different projects, but you're not exactly the archetypal session drummer.
David King: I'm not even really a drum nerd in many ways. I mean, the few times I've been in Modern Drummer [magazine] I spent the whole time being a total pretentious boob talking about Gerhard Richter paintings and stuff. I'm truly much more a musician and a songwriter and a composer and a band member.
I think I had more chops when I was younger than now, but as an improviser you have to continually mix up your language, and I've gone through many stages. I've gone through busy periods; I've gone through periods where I'm trying to channel my inner [renowned session drummer] Jim Keltner. There have been times where I really want to muscle it, and there are times when I want to be really minimalist. I'm getting to a point where I'm trying to make those periods all one now. In the course of an evening, I want to do some things that have a technical agenda and at the same time I want to flex that earthy muscle, that willingness to have drama, to go for something and fail.
I'm much more of a dialogue musician, so my agenda has always been to attract those like-minded souls. And so the people I play with, they want that. They want a dialogue more than they want to be politely supported. And there's a time and place for all of that. But my strengths have always been much more being someone who wants to be in a dialogue. I'm so interested in the [John] Coltrane/Elvin [Jones] relationship. To me, that's the most inspirational relationship because they were up in each other's grillz, to use a term in the parlance of our time [laughs].
CP: Is that with a z?
King: I think I want it with a z.
CP: So this is going to be the 10th anniversary of the Bad Plus's first show at the Dakota?
King: Yeah, it's awesome, and they've been super supportive. The first year it was half-full and we got some word of mouth, but [Dakota owner] Lowell [Pickett] was there from the get-go and he's supported me through the years with Happy Apple and other things. I should say that he's taken some chances with me—he's booked Buffalo Collision twice when no one else would, and that band contains two of the most famous avant-garde improvisers in the world [saxophonist Tim Berne and cellist Hank Roberts]. And Lowell stepped up and got everybody a hotel and did everybody right, so I really owe those guys a lot over the course of my career.
CP: Your show at the Dakota with Buffalo Collision was great, even though some people were walking out—
King: —saying, "This isn't jazz." Yeah. I think improvised music is hurt more by the term "jazz" than it's helped. Even though jazz has all these different schools, I think people are deeply confused because of certain really strong opinions about what jazz is and what it isn't. To someone who's coming to drink a gin and tonic and snap their fingers, Buffalo Collision is definitely going to upset you.
All I've ever asked is that people meet music on its own terms. I don't go to a show and hate it because it's not what I want. If you're going to hear a band like Buffalo Collision, be open to the idea that it's improvised and it's being done by some people who, in my opinion, know what they're doing improvising. It's not amateurish. And I'm right there with anyone who's seen a trillion amateur jazz groups. I mean, jazz is a bad amateur music, and I've been a jazz amateur—I've played horribly in my life. It's kind of what makes it special; you kind of have to know what you're doing and not on some mega-chops-land vibe. It suffers from that energy, too. It's more on the ears and listening and on a dynamic level and on a sophistication level. I think it's an art form that needs to be in capable hands.
THE BAD PLUS are playing two sets per night FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25, through SUNDAY, DECEMBER 27, at the DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB; 612.332.1010