The piano trio with a fondness for covering the odd rock classic return...
Nick Reynolds 2004-09-13
They play Ornette Coleman and Black Sabbath. They put a big fat snare drum in the middle of your skull. They are the Bad Plus and they show that piano trios are alive, well and kicking out the jams.
They come from Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is their second album but the first I've heard. It's great. And what hits you immediately is those drums. David King is a player of raw power and real inventiveness and he is captured in all his glory by Tchad Blake's superb production. Their version of Sabbaff's "Iron Man" (played on two pianos simultaneously!) is great fun and gives King ample room to show off. One minute he's thrashing away like John Bonham, the next he's scrabbling round his kit free form style like Coltrane's drummer Rashied Ali.
Anyone who has the confidence to tackle an Ornette Coleman tune gets my respect. Their take on "Street Woman" is alarming, and alarmingly good. But it's the groups own material which provides the real meat. All three members write, and write well.
Bassist Reid Anderson's "And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation" is outstanding, lyrical, driving and up-tempo, powered along by King's propulsive inventiveness. King's own "1979 Semi Finalist" is a jazz stroll retooled for the 21st Century. Pianist Ethan Iverson's Thelonious Monk style solo on this track is one of the albums great moments.They can do subtle too, on "Frog And Toad" or "Dirty Blonde" or the jolly country hoedown of "Laying A Strip For The Higher Self State Line".
The Bad Plus play jazz with the oomph of a rock band. But don't panic: this is not some horrible fusion thing. It's more like jazz on steroids. Like EST, they seem completely contemporary in their influences and unafraid of modern technology. But where EST are cool, restrained and definitely Scandinavian, the Bad Plus offer something more red blooded, humorous, and all-American: highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.