Never Stop

The Bad Plus

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Never Stop Review

by Thom Jurek

The Bad Plus, the leaderless trio comprised of bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King, have a well-deserved reputation for arresting and mischievous readings of rock, pop, and classical pieces ranging from Aphex Twin to Gyorgy Ligeti to the Flaming Lips. As a result, their own fine compositions have often been -- unfairly -- overlooked. Never Stop, the Bad Plus' eighth recording, is their first of completely original material. In a decade-long career filled with curve balls (the last being 2009's For All I Care, their first set of all cover material and the first to feature a vocalist), Never Stop pushes their margin and extends their reach far past canonical definitions of the "jazz piano trio." "The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart" feels like a nearly six-minute classical intro, full of complex harmonics, roiling kit drums, and a near pastoral theme that is interspersed with angular yet lyric, swinging post-bop improvisation. The title track is nearly an uptempo pop song, set to a near marching tempo. Irony abounds in "My Friend Metatron," with its relatively brief schematic theme that gives way to shimmering crescendos and codas, Latin tinges, and multiple time signatures. "Beryl Loves to Dance" feels more like a sprinting scherzo before it settles down into a funky groove with some knotty harmonic twists adding more irony -- not gimmickry -- to the mix. "Snowball" is a brief, lilting, skeletal ballad, imbued with near impressionistic piano nuances before Anderson takes the melody and asserts it with restraint and taste. "2 P.M." works through a particularly intense jazz improvisation while keeping a taut focus on modern classical composition as a methodology. The two longest pieces are the elegant "People Like You," where Iverson touches on Vince Guaraldi and Bill Evans, and "Bill Hickman at Home," a haunting naturally flowing jazz ballad with added quirkiness because it is played on a slightly out of tune piano, allowing for some compelling inside-out improvisation with a nearly cinematic flourish. The set closes with handclaps on the joyous gospelized blues "Super America." The Bad Plus' originals have always been provocative, but being parceled between covers, their impact was unduly blunted. Hearing an entire program of them on Never Stop offers listeners a full appreciation of just how innovative and creative -- and yet accessible -- they are, even as they redefine and expand the role of the piano trio in jazz.

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