The Bad Plus
I've discovered that it is pretty much impossible for me not to succumb to fan-boy admiration when writing about a Bad Plus album, so I'm going to go ahead and indulge myself with this here review. The Bad Plus have been together for ten years, and despite their (sometimes) treatment as a gimmicky group that covers Nirvana and Black Sabbath, they have attracted a fiercely loyal group of fans who never fail to express their love of the group (mention the band on Twitter sometime, you'll get a ton of replies from people you had no idea listened to jazz). Their latest album, Never Stop, celebrates the trio's tenth year of playing together. Unlike any of the band's past albums, Never Stop is comprised entirely of original tunes, with none of the adventurous covers of pop and rock tunes that were chiefly responsible for much of the trio's buzz in its early days.1
It is indicative of their charms that The Bad Plus can write tunes that evoke the intricate and driving melodies of prog rock icons like Rush or Emerson Lake & Palmer that absolutely hook me. This is all the more notable because I happen to abjectly despise those bands. On Never Stop, Beryl Likes to Dance falls into this category (and the best example of this type of prog-as-jazz tune is And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation from Give). However, the highlight of the album for me is the title track, which shares some of the proggy energy of Beryl (though, as bassist Reid Anderson pointed out in this interview at A Blog Supreme, the tune was actually composed for an Isaac Mizrahi fashion show for which the band performed a live soundtrack).
The Bad Plus - Never Stop by dave6834
Many of the other factors which have come to characterize The Bad Plus are present on Never Stop: the tongue-in-cheek song titles (like My Friend Metatron), obscure signifying (Bill Hickman at Home is written for a legendary stunt driver), the slavish devotion to writing quality melodies (as in The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart, which repeats a simple rubato melody with growing intensity for the first four minutes before turning the melody into a delightful little vamp for the final minute and a half), and the enthusiastic free jazz experimentation (see especially 2pm). It is as fitting a restatement of purpose as you would expect from a band which, despite criticisms from certain quarters of the critical establishment, has been developing its identity with flair for a solid decade. Here's hoping we can enjoy this group for decades to come.
Bonus Material: the EPK
1I'm actually pretty happy the band decided to eschew covers for this album. I've grown pretty tired of having to explain to my non-jazz-listening friends that The Bad Plus is more than "that jazz band that plays Nirvana tunes."
Track Listing: The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart; Never Stop; You Are; My Friend Metatron; People Like You; Beryl Loves to Dance; Snowball; 2pm; Bill Hickman at Home; Super America
Personnel: Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; Dave King, drums