The Bad Plus – Inevitable Western [TrackList follows] – OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks 888430240629, 50:46 [8/25/14] ****:
(Reid Anderson – bass; Ethan Iverson – piano; David King – drums)
Postmodern jazz trio the Bad Plus have progressed a long way since they issued their 2001 self-titled debut. When the threesome—bassist Reid Anderson, drummer David King and pianist Ethan Iverson—began they were infamous for thumping, rock-influenced jazz. Early covers included material by alt-rock icons Nirvana, English heavy-metal masters Black Sabbath and new wave hit-makers Blondie. Earlier this year, as a complete turnabout, the Bad Plus released an album-length performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which reduced the classical symphony into a stripped-down format, in a more-or-less straightforward arrangement. But for the Bad Plus, there isn’t a huge step from pop and rock music to classical: the process illustrates the band’s innovative impulse to broaden jazz’s milieu and range and, by extension, convert it into critically- and popularly-accepted music.
You won’t find rock music translations or re-interpreted classical music on the Bad Plus’ latest, the 50-minute Inevitable Western, their tenth studio recording. Instead, Anderson, Iverson and King focus on their own compositions: each member penned three tunes, for a total of nine tracks. The emphasis is melodic development, lyricism, and group interplay and improvisation. Anderson’s opener, “I Hear You,” has an unassuming melody maintained by Iverson’s piano. But the trio gives the theme an unpredictable gradient, particularly noticed via Anderson’s angular bass, and King’s quietly but insistently adjusting percussive accents. These features provide a varied sense of drama and witty demeanor. Musically speaking, Anderson’s second piece, the noisome “You Will Lose All Fear,” has a fascinating, warped responsiveness, with an interior dynamism which is equally inclined toward free improvisation and arranged jazz, as well as by hints of 20th-century modernist classical music. There are forceful, dissonant chords and perky arpeggios, while King offers restless drum fills and percussion rolls. The cut’s first half is roiling, the final half more peaceful. Anderson’s muse also thrives on expressive “Do It Again,” which has some alt-rock music mannerisms and inventive changes.
King’s numbers have enigmatic titles which mirror each tune’s unusual unconventionality. “Gold Prisms Incorporated” has a notable arrangement where the time signatures seem to be cut-and-pasted like an auditory jigsaw puzzle, similar in some ways to how Radiohead meshes different elements together for their experimental, indie rock songs. The twisted groove at the heart of “Gold Prisms Incorporated” represents the kind of material which has helped the Bad Plus accrue fans from outside customary jazz circles. There’s a discernment of many bits of related and unrelated musical slices, which somehow make an erratic whole, which permeates throughout the fast-paced “Epistolary Echoes.” No doubt some listeners could shift through the layers and figure out where some fragments may or may not have come from. Hand claps, unruly percussive wedges, Monk-like piano passages and more add up to a boundary-bashing jazz excursion. At nearly ten minutes, King’s “Adopted Highway” is the CD’s lengthiest track. It begins with a minor-key, low-end introduction with Iverson embracing his keyboard’s lowest notes, and within two minutes a carefully heightened mood takes over, with lightly plucked bass strings, higher-register piano notes and brushed percussion supporting a somber ambiance. Harmonic statements are imparted in a slowly uncoiled style, every section of the larger canvas submitted with meticulous care. There is an almost ephemeral shimmer which pervades, even when more intense instances are implemented. The opus closes with a flicker of what sounds like underlying electronics, which includes King’s nuanced percussive effects blended with Anderson’s barely audible bass.
Iverson wrote the concluding title track, an absorbing creation which fluently fuses blues, modal jazz, more intimations of classical, and melancholic, metropolitan saloon music (think of Frank Sinatra’s late-night mood music). The threesome utilizes nimble-fingered and emotional phrases, and an agile rhythmic structure, resulting in an iconoclastic flavor. Iverson’s other two compositions, “Self Serve” and “Mr. Now,” also yield comparable sonic highlights. “Self Serve” has more Monk-like swing within a post-bop design. The forward-looking “Mr. Now,” an energetic workout, has a soulfulness which is retained, even as King plays around with a double-time rhythm: his drum solo near the end is significant. With Inevitable Western, the Bad Plus continues to offer thinking-man’s music which can be accessible for non-jazz people.
TrackList: I Hear You; Gold Prisms Incorporated; Self Serve; You Will Lose All Fear; Do It Again; Epistolary Echoes; Adopted Highway; Mr. Now; Inevitable Western.