The rhythm of Dave King

by DoMinorEffect

Two years ago I saw The Bad Plus trio in the winter jazz Festival in Eilat. One of the things that fascinated me at the concert occurred in between the songs. After every two or three songs the pianist stood up and said: “That was a piece by Dave. The next one is also by him”. As being pianocentric, I always thought that Ethan Iverson, the band’s pianist, write all the their music. Apparently, I was utterly wrong: great amount of the band’s material is written by Dave King – The Bad Plus’ Drummer.

King’s music is intense, and so is his career. His last few months included a documentary release about him, and two albums releases – one with The Bad Plus and one with his a new trio where he plays new versions of old jazz classics.

This standards album, named “I’ve Been Ringing You“, was recorded with a pianist (Bill Carrothers) and a bass player (Billy Peterson) in a four hours long session in a little church in Minnesota. The location had some influence on the musicians, if one can tell by the pleasant darkness sound of the album.

The first song at the album is actually a farewell song, named “Goodbye“, which is a Benny Goodman piece that was played at every concert ending of his orchestra. “Goodbye” was written by Gordon Jenkins in memory of his wife, who passed away while giving birth to their first child, who died as well. King transferred this old gloomy piece, with its lingering clarinet notes that are very rare to find these days, to the modern urban sadness without missing a thing. Goodman’s silent clarinet becomes an itch of drum sticks on the cymbals, on the verge of whisper and scratch.

 The album is a good example of what can become from the meeting of old classics and experimental musician. As he said in interviews, King’s music philosophy is being collaborative – he does not like the kind of playing when one takes the central role and emphasize his great skills while all the other on stage are just being a background stunts for him. He prefer collaboration of ideas on stage where the music is the central player, not the performers’ skills.

This philosophy can be seen in the “King for two days” documentary. For two nights at march 2010 King played in Minneapolis, his home town, with five different bands in diverse styles. The common factor of them all is the relationships between the players. King, 42, plays with some of them since the age of 14. Tough they are familiar with each other, every band has its own style. The Bad Plus are more harmony-lyrical, while King’s other dominant band, Happy Apple, is less harmonic and more experimental. One of the bands in the movie is Golden Valley Is Now. They haven’t released any official recording yet and from the short sample that can was revealed at that evening, it is very intriguing to see what would come up with them.

King is a man of ideas and he needs the right company to fulfill them with. He tried once to do it on his own. King started playing the piano when he was five years old and the drums at the age of nine. Two years ago he recorded a solo album where he plays the piano and the drums on his own. He got some good reviews but did not record anything solo since.

His solo album was an exception at his career and even of his idea of music: music belongs to the group who plays it and not solely to the composer. You can test it by blind-listening to the The Bad Plus. It is not so easy to identify who wrote each piece, even though they play very different instruments: piano, drums and bass. That is one of their greatness. They do not write in order to stress their personal skills. They scrape together their music till it’s a collaborative piece where the composer identity is vague.

Composing is a dominant part in Dave King’s art and it seems to me that this is what ignite him to starts all his musical groups. He doesn’t wait till his band members get used to his new ideas. He joins other people, and without giving up on anything, he fulfill with them all of his musical ideas.