Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bad Plus - Never Stop II (Legbreaker Records, 2018)

Pianist Orrin Evans was an inspired choice (and if the Downbeat interview is accurate, the only choice) to replace founding member Ethan Iverson in The Bad Plus. Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King remain as the bedrock of the group, and the trio continues as before, creating witty compositions and pairing them with pithy improvisations. Leading off with the haunting and melodic “Hurricane Birds” which leads the group into the album, one that has a sense of melancholy that reflects the age. This sensibility is bookended by two bonus tracks that end the album, "Kerosene" and "Seems" which take on a floating fluidity that moves gracefully through their improvisations with a group nature that eschews soloing for an overall band sound. "Trace" kicks the pace up a notch with crisp drumming and thick sounding bass providing a firm foundation for Evans's piano to glide over. The music is not overtly loud, but it is played with a sense of urgency that keeps the tune moving along briskly. Their collective improvisation is very solid, and the trio works well as a group, interacting and sharing opportunities to support one another, and building to an exciting and satisfying conclusion that keeps the melody at the forefront. There is a sample of the bouncy wit that this group has been long known for on "Safe Passages" with Evans providing percussive piano chords over churning bass and drums that drive the music rhythmically forward. The music moves at a fast and interesting pace, with a high level of listening and empathy between the musicians resulting in a consistently interesting performance and album highlight. "Commitment" is one of the more dynamic pieces of music on the album, starting with a sense of velocity as all three members lean into a crashing, rhythmically dense configuration, with some excellent drumming taking the lead, and then everyone diving deep into a headlong improvised section. Rippling piano notes and deep muscular bass further develop the track, until there is an abrupt shift in tempo to a ballad configuration, with much open space and light touches on the instruments. This is a jarring change, but works to keep the listener off guard and apprehensive about what is to come. They return to the fast pace on the tumbling "Lean in the Archway" anchored by some stellar bass playing and thoughtfully challenging piano playing. The music develops a madcap cinematic feel, like the postmodern equivalent to instrumental accompaniment of silent films. The choppy rhythmic nature and ever changing consistency of the music keep it interesting and exciting. This was another fine entry in the discography of The Bad Plus. Evans is a superb instrumentalist and composer and deserves the wider attention he will find in this band, and he fits in seamlessly with King and Anderson and their musical conception. Never Stop II - amazon.com

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