Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Bad Plus - It's Hard (Sony Masterworks, 2016)

The Bad Plus, bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and pianist Ethan Iverson, began as the “jazz trio that plays the rock covers.” They quickly moved beyond that trap with many great original compositions and projects. This album finds them back in the mode of interpreters, working their unique magic into a series of readings of pop music and more. “Maps” begins with an urgent pace, as Iverson’s repetitive low-end playing makes for a nervous and jittery atmosphere, echoed by King’s disjointed drumming. The band is able to deconstruct the source material they have and then make their own coherent statements from the parts they have uncovered. The music gets very intense with all three members driving the music hard. Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” gets an off kilter and funky treatment with ringing piano and thick stoic bass. They get into the meat of the song and weave a fascinating rhythmic romp from it. Several jazz musicians including Miles Davis have covered “Time After Time”, and the group’s version holds close to the well-known melody and provokes introspection. “I Walk the Line” is one of Johnny Cash’s most famous songs, and it is a great centerpiece for Reid Anderson, whose bass gets to the heart of the song accompanied by King’s brushes and Iverson’s filigrees. They stretch and twist tempo, speeding things up and then abruptly letting go. Saxophonist Bill McHenry’s "Alfombra Magica" get a lush and evocative reading, with the trio developing a lovely song that you can imagine them playing with an orchestral backdrop. "The Beautiful Ones," by the recently departed Prince, is taken with a light and breathing feel, open ended enough for each of the musicians to make a coherent statement. Excellent bass and drums with showers of piano notes make for evocative listening. One of the most persistent AOR ballads “Don’t Dream It’s Over” tries to escape the morose nature of the original song and it able to reach an emotional state of loss and longing. “Staring at the Sun” begins with haunting solo piano before the bass and drums fill in. There is a spare ballad performance of “Mandy” with beautiful deep bass playing and delicate piano. They play up the song with a lot of cymbal crashing and bright piano chording, approaching the edge of campiness but never quite spilling over. “The Robots” hints at the motoring Krautrock groove, developing tension and then releasing with clusters of music bursting forth. The music is fast paced and exciting, and allows the band to improvise using different dynamics and tempos. The return to jazz centered music with a beautiful version of Ornette Coleman’s “Broken Shadows” that has quietly deft percussion and powerful bass and piano interplay. This was a delightful album, and shows the depth and breadth of the bands vision, taking pop, rock and jazz compositions and putting their distinctive stamp upon them. The covers are not gimmicks, but grist for the mill of their improvisational aesthetic. It's Hard -

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