On September 14 the jazz trio The Bad Plus celebrated their 10th year of
performing, composing, and arranging new classics in jazz literature by releasing a studio album entitled
The Bad Plus – Never Stop
The album is comprised of ten cuts with an additional two bonus tracks if you purchase the deluxe addition. This album is set apart from the trios previous six releases by the fact that every cut on the record is original material. If you do not recall, The Bad Plus originates from Minneapolis MN and is comprised of:
Ethan Iverson on Piano
David King on Drums
Reid Anderson on Bass
I welcome this composition-centric album with enthusiasm and an open heart. In the score for Ludwig Van Beethoven's masterpiece, Missa Solemnis op. 123, Beethoven inscribed the phrase, "From the heart, may it go to the heart" above the opening few measures. This touching sentiment directly engages the composer to the audience with a sentiment of hope, optimism, and earnest love for the craft and sound. The compositions on this album speak from the band, to the audience, about the joy and the journey of the previous ten years. This is the central theme of the album, with or without words, this is what these compositions are expressing.
The opening track, The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart, composed by David King, immediately places a thumb print on the album with the style of the trio. What strikes me most about this track, and thereby the compositional style of the trio, is the use of quick and rearticulated melodic notes. The piano is the predominant melodic instrument in the trio, however, the piano is fundamentally subject to sound decay; it is an inherent quality of the instrument. By articulating the notes in quick succession as opposed to sustaining them, the performers keep the pitches at their optimal crispness and volume. I also believe that this compositional tactic is a means of the band expressing their joy in performing together. It is an effective tool as an expressive technique.
Consequently, the 5th track, People Like You, is a ballad composed by Reid Anderson that makes compelling and evocative use of both melodic and rhythmic space. The piece drips with nostalgia and warm emotional resonances; it is my favorite track off the album. It also stands out as a very limpid example of the bands capacity to shape and direct their performances across the entire arch of the work, not just solo to solo or head to chorus as other jazz performances might be thought of. The Bad Plus are technicians of long range jazz phrasing, most notably their ability to slowly build a crescendo that reaches its boiling point at the crux of the work.
I dig this.
For a furthered display of this control of dynamic capacity listen to Beryl Likes to Dance, a cut off the album which was also composed by the maestro Reid Anderson. The tune's infectious and feel good melody spins out into a frenzied piano solo which reaches its boiling point at 2:40 into the work. This arrival point is demarcated by an explosion in the bass range of the piano, it is perhaps the most visceral moment on the album and well worth the second and third look you should give it. Nevertheless, this track also brings to the forefront the issue of the bands use of imagery in their compositional process. During a recent interview, they explained that they enjoy writing stories and/or painting a program for each composition as a means of making concrete their ambitions and ideas. In this case, Beryl is an awkward but enthusiastic young student who although shy in public, cuts loose and cuts a rug in the privacy of her bedroom. With the illumination of the program, the bands melodic direction takes on a new life and the bass explosion could be seen in any number of ways as the listener sees fit.
A later track, Bill Hickman at Home, composed by Ethan Iverson is about the quiet moments in the life of a notorious stunt driver who was made famous by his work for the films, The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Seven-Ups. Iverson ingeniously elects to record this composition on an out of tune piano. This is not a new sound to The Bad Plus's pallet, but it is nevertheless a valuable one that juxtaposes the driver's manic professional life with the tranquil and untroubled side of his private life. Ethan Iverson is a composer/piano player of staggering talent who has not forgotten the beauty of simplicity and this piece is an impassioned and creative reminder of this.
The Bad Plus is monstrously happening and I wholeheartedly encourage you to purchase and enjoy this album. Never Stop can be purchased from the itunes store here. For further Bad Plus related reading check out Ethan Iverson's blog Do The Math, which is linked here. The Bad Plus has been a topic of frequent discussion on TWD so you can also check the archives for previous posts like this one.