The Bad Plus
For All I Care
More and more, jazz-centric audiences leery about The Bad Plus’ affection for pop tunes – from classic rock to grunge – have warmed to the trio’s wildly creative approach to the material. This shift was evident at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2008, when the band amplified the drama and poignancy of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” (from 2007′s Prog), milking its theme for all it was worth. Listeners at the fest’s Jazz Tent, generally the site of less adventurous, more swinging fare, were left astonished, wanting more.
So it’s simultaneously a surprise and a logical next step that the band has expanded its palette – for the new CD and selected tour dates – by adding a vocalist. Largely an inspired collaboration, For All I Care starts with a version of Nirvana’s “Lithium” that begins in an understated fashion: Minneapolis alt-rocker Wendy Lewis sings the dour lyrics, allowing the notes to linger in the crevasses of a stately rock groove supplied by bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King. The song then takes a turn for the rambunctious, as pianist Ethan Iverson takes off on a twisty solo over swerving rhythms in a repeating pattern. Later, as the piece increases in intensity, producer Tchad Blake (Los Lobos, Peter Gabriel) moves the vocals to the back of the mix, letting the trio swell and then drop away.
Over tumbling toms and deep-sustain bass lines, Lewis achieves a ghostly effect at the start of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” which is later countered with cascading piano flutters. Lewis and the trio also breathe new life into Wilco’s “Radio Cure” and older pop/rock tunes that for some listeners will have special resonance: Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround,” spiced with Latin rhythms; the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love,” played at dirge speed with vocals that move from distant to intimate; a hyper-percussive version of Heart’s “Barracuda”; and the Flaming Lips’ “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.”
The CD’s title, a line from “Lithium,” also refers to the trio’s genuinely catholic taste in music, as evidenced in a bouncy version of Stravinsky’s “Variation d’Apollon” and several other pieces by 20th-century classical composers. To crib from another classic rock title, what once were practically vices – a jazz group toying with pop and classical fare – are now habits. And why not?
- Philip Booth