Magazine article The Spectator

Dangerous Sounds

Magazine article The Spectator

Dangerous Sounds

Article excerpt


The Bad Plus have been a long time coming. With a lot of recent American jazz shaped in the styles of 40 years ago, the famed `sound of surprise' has gradually been drifting into the sound of predictability. Part mixture of marketing convenience and part archival urge, most American musicians who have appeared since the 1980s have been clever jazz-smiths, assimilators and regurgitators of styles that have preceeded them. Smitten with the currently fashionable notion that jazz is `America's classical music', they have copped out of the creative act by failing to acknowledge that an artist's legitimating task is to divorce from the past and create in the present. Not any more if The Bad Plus has anything to do with it.

An acoustic piano trio who tap into energy from all sorts of places without falling into lazy derivations, they are a boundary-stretching group in the right place at the right time. Comprising Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums, they were signed recently by Columbia and assure anyone who will listen that they are not traditionalists.

Their latest album, These Are The Vistas, is one of the most important albums from the American jazz scene in a decade. For a start it sounds as if was recorded in 2003 and not 1963. Part of the reason is down to sound engineer Tchad Blake, who brings some of rock music's grit and gristle to the mix. Blake has hitherto worked with, for example, Suzanne Vega, Elvis Costello, Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos and Peter Gabriel, and hears music from a rock and roll perspective.

Through the shifting allegiances between piano, bass and drums, The Bad Plus show the piano trio still has a lot more to say in jazz - one moment it's the bass that predominates, or the drums, or the piano, then all three might congregate around a groove in their own individual ways, creating a dangerous, yet fresh ensemble sound. Included are three of their trademark deconstructions of pop songs - Nirvana's `Smells Like Teen Spirit', Aphex Twin's 'Flim' and Blondie's `Heart of Glass', which is splintered into shards of crystalline abstraction.

Somehow they convert these songs into devil's music of the highest order, music that depends on intensity and rapport for their volatile inspiration, rather than exploiting their novelty value. …

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