splendid > reviews > 5/11/2004
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Iron Man"

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The Bad Plus create another eclectic, bold and idiosyncratic concoction of modern jazz on Give. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King mix originals with a wide range of cover material, stretching themselves even further than the Blondie and Nirvana tunes they interpreted (or, as they say, lovingly deconstructed) on their first album.

Probably the most memorable cover here is an explosive version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man"; that's right, a jazz piano trio covers Sabbath! Iverson's twittering introduction features two pianos (one detuned), which he plays simultaneously. His enigmatic microtonal filigrees are soon supplanted by thunderous drums and the song's inimitable big riff. Suitably, producer Tchad Blake (and mixer extraordinaire Bob Ludwig) recreate the band in an enormous and vivid sound, rock-like in its visceral demeanor. Of course, no one can entirely replace heavy metal barre chords with thick piano sonorities, but Ethan Iverson creates a swirling and energetic canvas that competes with the electric guitar in attitude if not in crunch. What's more, his use of the detuned piano replicates some of the original's "bent" notes in a clever bit of aural mimicry. During the coda, we hear strands of the Dies Irae mixed in with a treble statement of the melody.

"Street Woman" is another effective cover -- a piece that originally appeared on Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction album. Iverson deals well with the material's modern jazz idiom, fashioning ambidextrous contrapuntal lines and angular dissonance. There is more intricate rhythmic interplay here from the group, but the performance retains a sense of the Bad Plus's trademark drive.

The Bad Plus's rendition of "Velouria", originally found on the Pixies' Bossanova, is a bit more enigmatic. Featuring an extended and ruminative introduction, followed by hyper-romantic Rachmaninovian chords juxtaposed with frenetic patterns from King, it threatens to come apart at the seams. This treatment is similar to the evisceration of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" on the group's first album, These are the Vistas. This kind of post-modern attack on the original seems to be an acoustic analog to the remix.

There are a number of noteworthy originals here, too. "Cheney Pinata" is dedicated to fearless leader number two, and is a feisty Latin dance number. "1979 Semi-Finalist" chronicles King's ill-fated quest for bowling league honors with an amusingly bittersweet slice of "undaunted" soundtrack music. "Frog and Toad" allows Anderson to lead things off with an intricate, undulating bass-line; King articulates off-kilter meters and syncopations while Iverson fills in tasty polytonal harmonies and some of his best single-line soloing to date.

It is interesting to note that, after all the great press that the Bad Plus received last year, many of the same critics, fickle bastards that they are, seem to have turned on them, characterizing their hybrid "jazz trio plays rock song structures" style as old news. On the contrary, I would suggest that the band is just finding their footing. What's more, the stylistic niche that they have carved out for themselves seems to have the potential for plenty of exploration and expansion. Here's hoping that the Bad Plus are given the chance to be career artists instead of one-hit wonders.



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