The Bad Plus
Straddling the line between exuberant hipness and studious methodology, The Bad Plus bring a fresh scent to the world of fusion, that strange hybrid of rock and jazz that seems to stagnate with surprising frequency. By sticking to the drums/keyboards/bass trio format, the band is begging comparison to Medeski, Martin and Wood, but if they can be dimensioned by that yardstick, it’s only by the fact that they share the knack of somehow keeping all the instruments in the foreground, whirling around in some crazy syncopated synchronized dance.
Selections on Give are divided between original compositions and some interesting choices of other people’s music. The Bad Plus are consistently spectacular, weaving their intricate musical plots and storylines together into an almost overwhelming cascade of ideas. The opening “1979 Semi-Finalist” is cool and composed, a meandering melodic line punctuated by significant pauses and grand aspirations. This is quickly followed by “Cheney Pinata,” a playful song that could have come out of a Havana conservatory, blending insistent afrocuban rhythms with a melancholy chorus. They do a take on Ornette Coleman’s “Street Woman,” which is excellent but hardly surprising, and a version of The Pixies’ “Velouria” that is chilling in its transition from wispy outline to thundering symphony. The other cover on here, Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” is the only clunker on this whole disc — not that it’s bad, mind you, just that by the time it arrives at the end of the album, it comes across as a stab at irony that doesn’t measure up to the rest of the material.
Of special note is “Layin’ A Strip For The Higher-Self State Line,” a raucous boogie where drummer David King spins and wobbles around the beat like a top, while bassist Reid Anderson squeezes out bluesy honks from the upright bass and Ethan Iverson pounds the piano into a quivering mass of iridescent pulsating lightning. This is one of those tracks I can hear over and over, noticing new cues and details each time.
Production by Tchad Blake is minimal — Give was recorded mostly on first takes, with no overdubs. The band apologetically lists their edits in the liner notes — a wrong note here, a better drum solo there — but the feel on Give is that of being present at a string of magical moments.
The Bad Plus: www.thebadplus.com