The Bad Plus


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Presumably the Bad Plus wanted to make a very specific statement when they titled this album Prog. Although there is no confusing its music for what has typically passed for progressive jazz or progressive rock in decades past, Prog embodies the true meaning of the word: it takes music forward -- not just theirs, but music itself. How they do that is relatively simple, despite the music's complexity: they go where they want to go, where others have yet even to consider going. That means throwing out conventional notions of what a jazz piano trio can and should do. That the Bad Plus is comprised of three exemplary musicians -- pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King -- is never in doubt. Their chops are on display at every turn -- and there are many turns, unexpected and exhilarating ones that produce seismic shifts without losing focus. But they're about more than chops. Where the Bad Plus excel, here even more than previously, is in their ability to make their exemplary musicianship and ingenuity accessible to listeners who might never have come near progressive jazz or jazz-rock fusion back when that term meant such overambitious outfits as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. Much has been made of the Bad Plus' affinity for hard rock, and that affection is undeniable, and not just in Prog's cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer," the least surprising and shortest-reaching piece of the set. Indeed, even the laid-back opener, a quirky, lazy rethink of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (oddly released the same month as Patti Smith's cover), and the jerky (in a good way) take on Bacharach/David's "This Guy's in Love with You," stretch further. But the trio's covers (they also do David Bowie's "Life on Mars"), while always fun to listen to, end up losing out to Prog's originals in the inventiveness department. On tracks such as King's "1980 World Champion" and Iverson's "Mint," tempos and tonalities dance madly, and Anderson's compositions, notably "Physical Cities" and the epic "Giant" project a grandness and an eloquence that, even during the airy, quiet moments, constantly cause the listener to question how three musicians could be so fully engaged at every given moment. Anyone who has already decided that jazz is dead, that the great innovators have come and gone, needs to listen to the Bad Plus to be proven dead wrong.

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