The Bad Plus
hat does it mean to rock? Is it that triumphant ascent on the monitor in front of flashing cameras and breasts? Or maybe it’s just that aggressive swagger. You know the one where you’re so cocky you strut in your own living room even when no one’s around? For whatever reason, I believe The Bad Plus possess this propensity for rocking out. Which is surprising, since they have neither vocalist nor guitar player in their ranks. Even so, this jazz trio is capable of drawing lighters. Why? It’s not just their source material (the threesome is known for their renditions of rock songs). It’s the pronounced banging of the piano that reverberates like power chords and their flair for dramatic flourishes.
I should be careful, though, because I don’t want to paint them as something they’re not; it’d be inaccurate to call them a “hard rockin’ jazz trio!” Because, for all of their rock leanings, they are a jazz combo in the best way possible—each player brings a potent set of chops to his respective instrument.
Give opens innocently enough, with the reserved “1979 Semi-Finalist”, but the somewhat Latin, vaguely political “Cheney Piñata” ups the tempo. Compositionally, The Bad Plus delve into deeper waters here. Halfway through the track, an ascending bassline repeats while drummer David King slaps skins and pianist Ethan Iverson’s light touches return to the main verse. When the bassline is revisited, it’s expanded and closes with hard-hitting chords, ending in true rock fashion.
A band that gets its reputation for covering songs tends to be, well, a cover band. Cover bands aren’t often known for their personal input, but rather their ability to recreate the recorded version of a particular song. Perhaps because of their instrumental set-up, perhaps in part for their free-wheeling ways, The Bad Plus are able to shake this image cleanly with their covers of Ornette Coleman’s “Street Woman” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”. And oddly, it’s one of the covers that demonstrate the group’s creative prowess. In their version of The Pixies’ “Velouria”, Joey Santiago’s psycho surf-punk guitar hook becomes an elegant, sweeping piano line underlined by an increasingly louder crash of snares and cymbals. When the band coalesces, the “rawk” begins.
While some musicians play the chameleon with great aplomb, The Bad Plus seem to have found a niche by using camouflage, shrouding themselves in any number of styles to backdrop their jazz set-up. From the bluesy “Layin’ A Strip Down For The Higher-Self State Line” to the almost metal riffs of “Do Your Sums-Die Like A Dog-Play For Home”, The Bad Plus envelop themselves into any setting, camp out and pound away a set of tunes. It’s only too bad they can’t set a guitar on fire when they’re done.
Reviewed by: Matt Chesnut
Reviewed on: 2004-09-07