The Bad Plus

Blunt Object: Live in Tokyo

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The Bad Plus are a much better listen live in concert than they are on their distorted studio recordings. Therefore, Blunt Object should be a defining discographical moment for the darlings of youth-oriented contemporary progressive jazz. What this eight-track collection offers is typical repertoire for the trio, including revamped versions of pop/rock songs, standards, the expected thrash drumming of Dave King, steady acoustic bassist Reid Anderson, and the inspired piano playing of Ethan Iverson. The group succeeds on all levels for this concert performed in Tokyo, Japan. Their well-known renderings of Queen's "We Are the Champions" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" are included, the former surrounding a waltz tempo with deliberate staggered phrasings in a pensive, non-victorious fashion, the latter a hard swing take sped up and featuring the flying, edgy, chordal Iverson fading to free, then roaring. Anderson wrote the two most interesting numbers, as the play on Ornette Coleman's "Tomorrow Is the Question" is titled "Silence Is the Question," with the bassist assimilating Charlie Haden's style during the intro as Iverson creeps in with minimalism, while King plays cymbal rolls before a build to triple forte and the pianist suggesting Chopin, Bach, or Beethoven. "And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation" is a New Orleans shuffle, fueled by a harder piston stroke rolling along funky and clean, with Iverson's heavy two-handed chords. Iverson also contributes two compositions -- "Guilty" with a remorse-laden, dark, slow plod, and "Do Your Sums/Die Like a Dog/Play for Home" with a broad range of motifs from stop-start to rockish, baroque, arpeggiated, frantic, heavy, then nothing. They do a throwaway "My Funny Valentine" recorded live at New York City's Roulette in 2001, with edited and brokeback lyric snippets regarding "smile" and "open mouth" that are nothing less than irritating -- a real abomination and not all that humorous. Musically, this is close to the best the Bad Plus offer, but one wonders how much farther they can go with a format that seems limited unless they add horns, a singer, or guitarist; alter course toward their more progressive inclinations; or commercially soap it up.

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