Here at Spinner, we receive more CDs than we can possibly listen to. Sadly, many of…
- Posted on Sep 10th 2010 12:30PM by Tad Hendrickson
"A lot of ink has been written about the fact that we do covers, but covers are actually a small part of our show," drummer Dave King points out. "Seventy to 80 percent of the songs are originals both live and on record. We tipped the scale with the last record, so we really felt that we needed to tip it back with the new one."
Things have indeed changed since the early days when the Bad Plus were the most polarizing force in jazz. After a single import album, the band (which features bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and King) caused a stir when it scored a weeklong gig at New York's prestigious Village Vanguard, the holiest of holy jazz shrines. Then its 2001self-titled indie debut was heralded as one of the best albums of the year by the New York Times.
The band was quickly signed to Columbia, where its 2003 major-label debut, 'These Are the Vistas,' featured the band's compositions alongside radically revamped covers of Aphex Twin, Blondie and Nirvana -- the band's version of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was a bone fide hit. It all caused an uproar in the jazz community just as loud as non-jazz magazines like Rolling Stone and Blender trumpeted the band's arrival as the "it" jazz band to the outside world.
"The criticism we got was just a little over the top," says King, citing a particularly nasty article written in 2004 by Bill Milkowski for Jazztimes magazine. "We're nice guys, not a bunch of a--holes who run over people. We don't walk around trashing people. We just want to make the most beautiful and powerful music possible. Ultimately, I feel sorry for someone like Bill Milkowski for saying what he did, that we can't play our instruments and stuff. He was the laughingstock of the music community. He didn't know who the Pixies were? Give me a break. If you don't know who the Pixies were, you shouldn't even be writing about music. The Pixies are an important band. Period."
King believes that the Bad Plus actually got more mileage out of people, including other musicians, coming to their defense than would have otherwise been the case. Now several years later, the band seems to have settled into its role as being (depending on your perspective) the indie rock guys who play jazz, or the jazz guys who play indie rock. The hype has died down, but the band lives on.
'Never Stop' continues to refine and improve the band's dynamic group concept. Much like the Pixies and Nirvana before them, the Bad Plus manically bounce back and forth between loud and quiet extremes. Like those bands, the drums are loud and the bass is meaty, which is a marked departure from most jazz recordings. Unlike the aforementioned bands, the Bad Plus also push in other directions, as well, obviously bringing improvisation into the equation but thinking about less obvious things like chemistry, sonics and the moral obligation they have to the music and themselves.
According to King, "For myself, being in a piano trio for 10 years is itself a challenge for me to hone my dynamics. Some of the stuff is quite aggressive, and the idea is to keep some of that dynamic swing while keeping true to the acoustic instruments. Say we play [Black Sabbath's] 'Iron Man.' Are we going to play it like the Mal Waldron Trio or are we gonna play it like us? We have to be true to the original intent of some of [the covers], yet hone the acoustic trio dynamic."
Highlights on the new offering include the Anderson-penned title track, with its marching rhythm paired with a taut and melodic piano line from Iverson – the band blows the whole thing into the stratosphere with an energetic gush of emotion at the end. Darker and more brooding is Anderson's 'People Like You,' which shimmies along for nine minutes without ever losing its quiet intensity. Showcasing the band's sense of humor is Iverson's 'Bill Hickman at Home,' which name-checks the famous Hollywood stunt driver, offering up a churning if imaginary study of what the man was like when the cameras were off. Just plain fun is King's gospel-ish 'Super America,' complete with hand claps.
"We're feeling really good about this material because it was really road tested," King says with a palpable sense of enthusiasm. "The band is just a really high functioning band at this point, so its really exciting to be part of something that everyone is into and just throwing down."
Here's what our friends at All About Jazz are up to:
Julian Joseph: Joining Jazz and Baseball
Bobby Zankel: Peaceful Jazz Warrior
Wycliffe Gordon: What This Is All About
'Portrait of Jack Johnson,' Karl E. H. Seigfried
'Spark of Being: Expand,' by Dave Douglas & Keystone
'Mirror,' by Charles Lloyd Quartet
'Onecept,' by David S. Ware
'Tattooed by Passion: Music Inspired by the Paintings of Dale Chisman,' by Matt Jorgensen
'Mood Music for Time Travellers,' by Either/Orchestra
'There's a Storm Inside,' by Chico Pinheiro
All About Jazz Video and Photo Coverage From the Tanglewood Jazz Festival