Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The esteemed jazz critic of the New York Times, Mr. Nate Chinen, is hosting a virtual year end round table at his blog, TheGig.  Chris Barton, jazz critic of the Los Angeles Times, has some interesting thoughts about the Bad Plus, or more specifically, why they aren't talked about the same way, ten years after their debut album.
As for [Ethan] Iverson, and maybe this is simply the difference in being on the West Coast, but along the lines of the ‘mainstream conversation’ you mentioned it strikes me how little (present company excepted) the Bad Plus gets talked about anymore. Maybe after 10 years they’re just “that trio that does wacky stuff with the ‘120 Minutes’ songbook,” which would be a shame because I’m right there with you, Never Stop was their strongest record yet. Maybe there’s something in the ever-fractured promotion machine of 2010 that’s not serving them right, or maybe it’s a byproduct of not fitting into one category or another.
Hmm, very interesting indeed.  Oh, so what do I think?

I'm definitely with Chris on how potent the Bad Plus are at this point.  I saw them here in London during the jazz festival (twice for good measure) and I think my jaw was in some drooped position for 90% of the show (during the other 10% it was resting).  There are few things in this life more pleasurable than watching Dave King drum.

But in terms of the Bad Plus in musical media right now, at least part of it seems to be how people responded to them when "These are the Vistas" came out.  Most all of the reviews concentrated on the novelty of the covers, whether they thought it was good or bad.  Even the ads for the show in London mentioned those early reviews and described the band in those terms - post-modern jazz trio, as fun as highbrow gets.  By it's nature though, the novelty narrative dries up pretty quickly.

I feel (and Ethan & co. correct me if I'm wrong) that the band is so much more than "Heart of Glass" and have preferred to explore their many musical interests, rather than developing their image and touring with semi-big rock acts (something that Medeski, Martin & Wood did when they opened for Phish).  The Bad Plus jumped off a major label anyway, which gives them a lot more musical freedom and the ability to more organically affect how people view them.  They may not reach the same markets now, but they can connect to individual listeners in deeper ways.

What surprised me most when I saw them though is how the group has integrated so many influences into their collective sound that the music has this very pure, sui generis nature (which I hear in Braxton and Palestrina as well).  The fact that the music seems to defy the storylines pegged to it from the first album makes it hard to write about.  The Bad Plus are a few steps ahead of us, and I'm just fine with that.

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