Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Bad Plus w/ Wendy Lewis - For All I Care (Heads Up, 2009)

The Bad Plus, consisting of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King have brought a much needed boost of energy to the jazz world with a dynamic presence and an intelligent mix of pop covers and well written originals. This album is a bit of a departure as it features guest vocalist Wendy Lewis on a set dominated by covers of classic rock songs. Some of them work pretty well, like the opening version of Nirvana's "Lithium", which benefits from Lewis's deadpan delivery, and the band uses the dynamic nature of the song well. Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" gets a lyrical if florid performance. The instrumentals "Fem (Etude #8)" and "Semi-Simple Variations" are very successful because they play to the band's strength with short and pithy performances. Wilco's "Radio Cure" has a wistful feel, whereas Yes's "Long Distance Runaround" and Heart's "Barracuda" can't seem to decide if they are tribute or parody. The biggest problem with this approach is that it downplays the group's originality - perhaps their greatest strength is that they have three excellent composers who all bring something different to the table with their original songs. I worry that doing a nearly all covers album with a vocalist will give fuel to the fire to those who would write off the group as a mere novelty act. Hopefully they will use this disc as a springboard to a disc of all originals, with the musical intelligence and power they have at their disposal it would undoubtedly be a great one.

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