The Bad Plus Are:
Reid Anderson – Bass
Ethan Iverson – Piano
David King – Drums
Produced by David King & Tchad Blake.
From the cd booklet:
“In most cases, these performanced were first takes. There are two edits: In the coda of Neptune (The Planet) Ethan played a wrong note that we fixed, and Dave’s intro to Layin’ A Strip For The Higher Self State Line was liftted from another take because the one from the take we used wasn’t as happening. There are no overdubs in this recording.
Defining The Bad Plus is a hard job. On their debut, there is a simple statement: “The Bad Plus is a power trio." But this is not enough to define a band that adds Zappa-esque humour into a music that has obvious elements of free jazz, rock, country, disco, pop… and the list goes on. It is a hard job indeed.
The idea of a jazz trio covering possibly the most overrated song of the 90’s (and that is, Smells Like Teen Spirit) was quite appaling for a listener like me, who was trying to find easy ways to get into jazz music at that time. After hearing only this song, I catched a show of theirs. My father, who is a jazz expert on his own, said that they look like another standard jazz trio. The band went onstage quite formally, and 2 seconds later, they were blasting with groovy basslines, atonal piano solos that sounded like Thelonius Monk went totally mad, and a jazz drummer who pretended that he was in a death metal band. Funny, it sounds, at that’s what the band aims it to be. Since the band may be suitable for any kind of listener because of their poppy approach, I will make my review in a way that every lisrener should be able to appreciate every song on the cd.
Their sophomore effort sounds just like the mess those two descriptive paragraphs I’ve strived to make readable. Don’t get me wrond, this is a good thing. A really good thing. Compared to their previous effort, the band is a lot more groovy and alive. The opening song, 1979 Semi- Finalist
and the 2nd track Cheney Pinata
are more at the groovy side. The band manages to extract simple American and Spanish daily-life moods, respectively, in these both tracks. Then comes the loose Ornette Coleman cover Street Woman
. The band borders on the level of ridiculousness that it even makes you laugh. The playing in this track is so loose that in first couple of listens it is almost impossible to find a connection between each member. The listener shall realize the wonderful polyrhythmic approach to the track with careful listenings, and that’s where the beauty of the track comes from. Staggering perfomance from David King. This track also foreshadows the free improvisation parts in the album.
The next track is a pop/jazz masterpiece called And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation
. The composition of this track is kept simple, unleashing the dark feeling and aggression of the track. Again, David King shines on this track. The next, dreamy Frog And Toad
is a clever ballad which the band defines as “Our loving tribute to a literary classic." Yet it is a let down for me, and sounds bland, rather than introspective.
Next four tracks are the highlights of the album. First comes the wonderful Pixies cover Velouria
. The song slowly builds up with a dark sounding melody, into a really groovy, free improvisational part. Then the band tightens up again into the rocking theme of the song; and man, they’re loud. Quite possibly the loudest acoustic trio ever. Layin’ A Strip For The Higher Self State Line
has a funny and complicated story about huge trucks going as fast as they can on a single road, a buddha, and a crystalline. I don’t recall it completely. Starts of with a drum solo by Dave King, the song is adventurous, and country influenced. All three instruments, and especially Reid’s bass is the driving element in this song. The next track, Do Your Sums, Die Like A Dog, Play For Home
is made up of three separate sections, as seen in the title. It may represent the different characteristics of each member in the band, too. I’m not sure; but it surely is an outstanding track. Starts off with Ethan softly playing a few notes on his piano; it immediately jumps off into a wild, groovy chaos. That is the first part. The second part is faster, but yet more calm, and melodic. The transition to the last part is more fluent; and the third part is solely madness. The band builds up to a really Coleman influenced chaos, and Dave King starts beating off his drums like a rockstar. The rhythm section turns out to be something you can even headbang to. Then the band jumps out of the dusty third secton, into the first one again. Brilliant. Dirty Blonde
starts off as it is the next chapter of DYS, DLAD, PFH. The ending notes of the previous track is quite similar to the start off this one. Written by Reid Anderson, the bass lines really shine for me here. The song is indeed, “dirty" sounding. Both structure and sound wise. It is another highlight of the album.
To tell you the truth, Neptune (The Planet)
doesn’t do much for me; and no, it is not because it is just a ballad. It shows a potential of being beautiful, however it is unfocused. The listener strives too hard to find a meaning in the song. That doesn’t mean it’ all bad, though. The song almost manages to swing slowly into beauty.
The ultimate Bad Plus cover Iron Man
(yes, the Black Sabbath one) starts off with Ethan playing both a detuned upright piano and on a Steinway. The Bad Plus version of the song is much more slower; and in my opinion, more rocking, more of a head-banger. The band shows that to be heavy, you do not necessarily need crunching guitars and bore the listener to blandness while playing as much E’s or double bass notes as you can. The arrangement to this cover is quite interesting. The main structure of the song is played over and over; but it is cut by weird, and short drum solos by Dave King. Ethan constantly improvizes on the piano, which makes the song quite an interesting listen. During the last main riff, the band changes the key of the song, making it cheerful and happy sounding. During the first listen, it made me laugh out really loud. It sounds like as if they’re just simply mocking the song, but with respect. You should listen to the song to see what I mean. This brilliant cover ends calmly, and quite sadly. (The live version of this song usually ends with Dave messing with two walkie talkies).
There is also a bonus track, Knowing Me, Knowing You
It is an ABBA cover, and quite good. However, it does not reach to the greatness of the cd in general.
In the end, The Bad Plus deliver the most accessible, yet weird, and fun jazz music nowadays. Are they doing something new? Yes. It is new, but not revolutionary. Jazz music bordered on rock and pop for years, however; no other band fused genres in such free and fun attitude.