The Bad Plus

What one heard in 2019

In 2019, one heard a lot of music across multiple genres. Aside from intently focused or plain distracted home listening, one spent a considerable amount of time listening to music on headphones while commuting to and from work. Even though one definitely discovered new and engaging music in 2019, one was unable to come up with a top ten list of favorite albums actually released in 2019. Maybe one is not too big on year-end lists anyways. Be that as it may, one hopes you readers out there find your groove in this random selection and take a listen to some of the music.

January confirmed one’s relatively new interest in electronic music and its interactions with jazz, namely Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music and Brad Mehldau’s Gabriel. One was reminded that one had liked (for the most part) and been pleasantly surprised by their collaboration on Mehliana a few years back, an album of kindred spirits.  

February was bass month as double bassist Larry Grenadier released his first bass solo album The Gleaners on ECM, a musical event – one being a bass practitioner – one just couldn’t miss that one and had to dig deep into it once it was available. Though a longtime devotee, one was impressed with the scope of Grenadier’s bold project and how well he delivered on that promise. Bass is not just beautiful. In those hands, it approaches the transcendent.

In March, one went on a John Coltrane transcribing binge but mostly indulged oneself in idle listening to favorite masterpieces, including A Love Supreme, Sun Ship and Transition. One was reminded – if one needed to be reminded – of the lasting and timeless qualities of this divine music. French quartet Flash Pig also put out a great record in 2019, with the appropriately titled Year of the Pig. In March, one also dipped into the Carpenters for a week and wondered why the innocuous schmaltz of saccharine pop still somehow appeals to one’s ears. One assumes it’s about the harmony and Karen’s angelic voice.

April saw a deliberate urge to acknowledge women artists and feminize one’s male-centric Spotify downloads. As in most art, there are just as many great women in music as there are men but it takes twice as much effort to track them down online. One particularly enjoyed listening to guitarist Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, pianist Kris Davis’ discography as leader and sidewoman, Angelica Sanchez on drummer Chad Taylor’s Circle Down album, and Angelika Niescier’s New York trio. On the more swinging front, one appreciated (and still does) the work of bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux. One has probably forgotten a few more.

In May, one was turned on to singer Gabriel Kahane, about whom one knew nothing. Kahane has written some poignant songs, as epitomized by his Book of Travelers album, where he accompanies his short stories on piano. In May, one also set out to fill a gap in one’s knowledge of Stravinsky’s ballets russes. Accordingly, one listened and daydreamed to various renditions of Appolon Musagète, Firebird, and The Rite of Spring. One also checked out Tim Hecker’s follow-up to Konoyo, namely Anoyo, and enjoyed the ride.

What the hell did one listen to in June? Not knowing where to look, one assumes one played one’s musical obsessions on a loop. Somehow one only remembers listening to Armand Hammer’s Paraffin on a crowded subway ride, wondering how to search for good hip hop when one has lost touch with the state of rap these days.

One highlight of July has to be a drive through Pennsylvania’s pastoral countryside with very dear friends, and that moment when Bill Callahan’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest came on. Just perfect. One thinks one revisited Eric Revis’ City of Asylum and Crowded Solitudes at some point that month.

One is positive one listened to music on a daily basis in August. But one is equally positive one didn’t discover anything new or catch up on any new release. One probably kept the same music on rotation. With Bach’s cello suites and keyboard inventions a comforting touchstone.

September flew by but one really enjoyed the Stranahan, Rosato Zaleski trio’s Live at the Jazz Standard. What a great chemistry these three have. In a different style, one latched on to the trio of Reid Anderson (of The Bad Plus fame), Dave King (same) and Craig Taborn and their outfit Golden Valley is Now. Wow, one sure didn’t see that one comin’!  And so one had to review it here.

In October, the highly awaited Activate Infinity by the Bad Plus came out. The second one since Orrin Evans replaced Ethan Iverson on piano. Up there with everything they’ve done so far. October also brings the Fall season and – out of nowhere – Ivo Pogorelich playing a selection of Sonatas by Beethoven and Rachmaninoff came on the radio. One immediately checked out the full album. A timely and inspired offering.

In November, one reveled in the power of the bass, as one would. One stumbled on the duo of Scott Colley and Benjamin Koppel. Their album How to get there is as good as this kind of dialogue can get. Also, one got to listen to Chris Speed, Chris Tordini and Dave King’s Respect For Your Toughness (reviewed here) a lot. One saw this trio live and vividly remembers it. One will definitely look out for the next adventure.

In December, one chanced upon Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry, as performed by the Vox Clamantis ensemble (ECM) and was sucked into its choral beauty. While one listened to other music that month, this one probably tops anything else in peacefulness and lyricism.

Of course, one took some detours through some old-time favorites and heard a lot more than is featured here. But off the top of one’s head, this is it.

Who knows what one will be listening to in 2020?  How weird can the pronoun “one” get?

Activate Infinity, The Bad Plus

Activate Infinity, The Bad Plus

A caveat is in order: a little search through the archives would probably reveal that yours truly is heavily biased in favor of the band and has possibly reviewed every single album since the blog was started. This one had to be covered here…

Activate Infinity comes hard on the heels of Never Stop II, released in 2018 with Orrin Evans replacing Ethan Iverson on piano, and given the watershed lineup change the trio experienced, it’s just mindboggling that they all continue to be such prolific composers. Not to mention that every new album comes with a hectic schedule of worldwide touring. These guys just never stop.

Kicking off with Reid Anderson’s “Avail”, the album suggests the trio is in top form. Strong melody, infectious beat, tight interaction, and that signature style combining rhythmic agility and a well honed sense of drama. Exhilaration is all over the record as the band tackle their own material forcefully, going for broke, pushing and pulling, surprising themselves – hear Dave King’s “Oh” at 2:51? – and always embracing the song.  “Slow Reactors” picks up steam as the trio explores the underlying gems of this cinematic theme.  Storytelling seems to be a popular word in the journalistic world these days. Well, this band has consistently excelled at it, often telling memorable stories in the span of a few minutes. How great to find that drummer Dave King’s “Thrift Store Jewelry”, which originally appeared on their 2007 Prog album, made it onto this one. Pianist Orrin Evans brings his soulful touch to the proceedings, and makes it clear he had been a fan of the trio a long time before he actually became a fulltime member. On “The Red Door”, you’re taking a jaunty ride in the country but before you know it, the tune you were humming along to hits a bump and you’re riding down a rollercoaster, full of sharp turns and wild loops. “Looking In Your Eyes” takes things down a little bit, a quiet rubato theme meanders through a peaceful land, a welcome break before Dovetail Nicely takes over, a well-titled vehicle where all the parts fit nicely together, bass, drums and piano in lockstep, navigating the classic Bad Plus tempo shifts. The thing about The Bad Plus is that everyone seems to be holding the steering wheel, hitting the accelerator, jamming on the brakes, swerving past the obstacles, they’re all monitoring the situation collectively. “Undersea Reflection” is a case in point. The hardcore fan will possibly be reminded of tunes like “Anthem for the Earnest” from their 2005 Suspicious Activity album, except that the production here is closer to what the band sounds like live. What a great choice to finish off with “Love is the Answer”, an oldie from the band’s very first album, revamped with better production here if you ask me. Bassist Reid Anderson’s lyrical tune unfolds with simmering intensity, leaving space for his beautiful tone to shine in the solo spot. 

Maintaining such a high standard of quality and creativity after over 20 years is a rare achievement. Few bands, regardless of genre, have done it. Somehow, The Bad Plus always defies expectations. If anything, love may be the answer.

Buy the album here on their Bandcamp.

Golden Valley

Reid Anderson, Dave King, Craig Taborn, GOLDEN VALLEY IS NOW

This is a godsend. Good music, like all things good, defies easy categorization. That the music on this first album was composed by such maverick figures as Reid Anderson and Dave King – of The Bad Plus fame – and like-minded composer/pianist Craig Taborn, immediately catches the music lover’s attention.  To top it all off, the three Midwesterners have known each other since they were teenagers, so getting together to make and release a first album at this particular time feels like a long overdue no-brainer. It’s coming out now for a reason. It took 25 years to come to be.

Bassist Reid Anderson is on the electric bass and electronics for this album, an appropriate choice for the rock-ambient soundscape unfolding across the ten tracks, and an ideal companion to Craig Taborn’s array of acoustic and electric keyboards. Dave King plays both acoustic and electronic drums, and fans of the versatile drummer will no doubt recognize his deft touch on the kit.

So, what shenanigans did the three friends forming this triumvirate pull this time?  In a nutshell, music that sounds immediately familiar, poppy, accessible, and yet so unclassifiable.

The opener “City Diamond” sets the tone for an album that meshes pop catchiness with jazz braininess, and before you know it, you’re nodding your head to its simple melody,  glossing over the broiling rhythmic foundation of Anderson and King, tossing curveballs left and right.

“Sparkles and Snakes” sounds like an 90s indie rock anthem Sonic Youth could have written while jamming out during the making of their Dirty album. Minus the shifting time signature and Taborn’s electric guitar-like synthesizer.

When it comes to acknowledging and embracing your musical roots regardless of genre and synthetizing them into a full-fledged offering a quarter of a century later, this comes close to perfection. Having grown up in the same cultural and musical environment, the three friends have a common ground to explore and do so with unrestrained enthusiasm and a keen sense of composition.

On the spacy slow-burner “This Is Nothing”, the music simmers out of a dream, plodding along to an unmapped destination. Taborn’s seemingly detuned organ-like keyboard keeps the mood spooky and vibrant at once.

The album has an enveloping quality that takes the listener on a dreamy adventure but not one where the brain just goes to sleep. Arguably all the tunes are hooky in a pop kind of way, but they all have a specific shape and unlikely foil that makes them more than what they seem to be on first listen. You’d expect no less from three experienced musicians equally at ease with jazz improv, 20th century classical modernism, alternative rock and what not.

“Polar Heroes” is a testament to these musicians’ surreal capacity at stacking blocks of sound and paring them down to their essential core. The song remains airy while building up momentum all the way through.

Now “You Might Live Here” is quite something. It has the kind of definitive inevitability that will make you wish you had grown up in Golden Valley, Minnesota, – small town America where three kids playing out of their garages somehow envision a path toward quality music. King’s four-to-the floor beat and Anderson’s even-note bass line bring to mind mainstream 80s pop dance music and make it sound actually lovable, eroding the strongest biases you may have against the 80s sound. Don’t hold back, eat your cotton candy and go for a joy ride.

For music that pulls on such a wide variety of influences, the album is tied together by a unity of vision and purpose: the fun of making music with your friends that celebrates common roots and textural diversity. On “Hwy 1000”, King’s Aphex Twin-style skittish drumming powers the layered motifs down a Californian – in fact Midwestern – road stretching away into the distance. You’re zipping along, windows down, but as usual, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the trip.

I have not read any reviews  for this album as I didn’t want to be influenced in any appreciable way. If you somehow stumbled on this post, here’s my recommendation on a long commute, or just any time of the day. Play this album through and just enjoy the vibe. Golden Valley, wherever you are, some talented musicians picked up on your hidden treasures. It’s about time.

A complex emotion

How did you come to jazz? To this question, I often find myself scratching my head and typically settle on a vague answer only made more vague by an impulsively apologetic shrug. “Well, you know, it just happened”. There was never any kind of jazz-related music playing around the house and even my childhood piano lessons didn’t put the genre on my radar the whole time I took them. It wasn’t exactly frowned upon or disregarded by my circle of friends and relatives. It simply didn’t exist. The closest I ever got to an awareness of the music growing up was a scuffed compilation CD of Glenn Miller my parents had left sitting on a dusty bookshelf in the living room. How did it get there in the first place? I will never know. As I moved into my late teens, I picked out a Coltrane retrospective CD while shopping with my parents at a grocery store in my hometown in France. I remember it had the song Russian Lullaby on it, the last track. I had never heard anything played with so much intensity and fire, at that breakneck speed. And no amp or savvy production to give it a boost. What the heck is this, I thought. This beat is infectiously fast! Is this humanly possible? From here on out, I went on a Coltrane binge – mostly the late and supposedly less accessible recordings – that didn’t leave much room for any other jazz artist or other music style for a while. After wearing out Stellar Regions and the Live at the Village Vanguard sessions – which ripped apart any sense of metronomic stability – I worked my way back through the earlier records and slowly gravitated toward the more straight-up swinging jazz I had only had a glimpse of before at the time. That’s when Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue caught my attention. Low and behold, it had my new hero on it, blowing his heart out on every tune. So, it is possible to make a truly distinctive and individual statement  in the most collective setting one can think of, I mused. Thus began my sinuous initiation to this thing called jazz. Twenty years down the road and a new instrument to practice – the double bass – I’m still struggling to define the contours of the art form. There are times when I just can’t take the polyphonic quality of some of the music and  go into a jazz-free regimen for days, only playing rap, classical and what not,  or no music at all.  Jazz can be overwhelming as complex emotions are.

I guess that’s where I’m getting at with his post.

As much as I have denied it defensively for years, I came to realize that yes, jazz is complex.  But complexity is not a sanctuary for intellectuals or an elitist class of the Enlightened. Human emotions are complex. To me, when played sincerely, jazz is the epitome of a complex human emotion, one that ties the cerebral to the elemental seamlessly. At the risk of overstating the point, we all have something jazz inside us. Sure, the term originated under unfavorable auspices. As the BAM (Black American Movement) controversy made abundantly clear, the word jazz itself is morally problematic when we look at its racist and derogatory beginnings. It’s no wonder, then, that most jazz lovers and haters are still fairly opinionated about where to draw the line between jazz and non jazz, not realizing that this line has never been and will never be scored in indelible ink.

To me, the difficulty of defining the genre is a testament to its cultural importance, enduring appeal and vital energy. It will not be pigeonholed because it has change, difference and human interaction at its core. I’ve always been struck by the fact that in the early days of the nascent jazz idiom – predominantly in the music of New Orleans – performers often played over each other and rarely got a solo spot to shine. They all soloed together simultaneously,  so to speak. Yet it was the combination of individual talents that shaped and guided the overall sound of the band. In that way, people like Louis Armstrong  or Duke Ellington clearly deserve the jazz originators label that they usually get credit for. Their music served as a catalyst of the marriage of Black folk culture and European classical-inspired white America.

Ask your friends if they listen to any jazz and the handful of those who do will likely mention a couple of classics from the 60s but probably nothing past this golden age of the music. I understand that, that’s what I started listening to when I was first turned on to it. It’s probably harder to know where to look for jazz artists today as the music is stylistically more varied than it was sixty years ago, and paradoxically a lot more accessible, just a click away on social media or the Internet in general. Yet, in this day and age of hip hop, pop or other-infused jazz, even today’s up and coming artists always have some kind of connection to these foundational roots, however unconsciously buried they may seem to be. 

Since this is a place where I should recommend things, I’d like to share some of the relatively recent releases that I have been listening to over the last year or so. Inevitably, they reflect my personal inclination but hopefully also the diverse range of music that today’s  “jazz” artists are creating. Jazz alert: the styles range from the post-post-post (are there more?) bop vernacular to plain esoteric stuff. As guitarist Bill Frisell simply puts it on his recent solo album, Music Is, “music IS”.

If any of you out there reading this wants to share their story of how they encountered jazz and how they look upon the music, I’d be very happy to feature their story as a guest post on wellyouneedit. So, fire away.

Matt Brewer  Mythology

Brad Mehldau   Gabriel

Flash Pig Year of the Pig

Andrew Cyrille Quartet  The Declaration of Musical Independence

Bill Frisell  Thomas Morgan  Small Town

Craig Taborn   Daylight Ghosts

Eric Revis  Sing Me Some Cry

Glenn Zaleski    My Ideal

Mary Halvorson   Code Girl

The Bad Plus  Never Stop II

Mark Guiliana  Quartet   Jersey

Etc…

The Bad Plus, New Morning,Paris, October 16th

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To say that The Bad Plus has consistently defied expectations since its inception back in the 2000s is an understatement. When I heard that pianist Ethan Iverson was throwing in the towel for other equally exciting musical adventures, I have to admit my heart sank. Hell, the teenagerish fan in me thought that the world was really coming to an end (is it?) and it would all go downhill from there! The simultaneous news that Orrin Evans was stepping in somewhat alleviated the shock though. After all, I knew Reid and Orrin (may I call you by your first names guys?) go back a long time and had played beautifully together back in the day, particularly in Orrin’s band in the late 90s. And I knew that this momentous replacement would not dent my fandom in any major way. What I didn’t know is how much this change was the best thing that could ever happen to this band at this point of their trajectory.

I’ve seen The Bad Plus over a dozen times in the Paris area, in rainy open-air festivals, dim-lit jazz clubs, and nice venues like the New Morning, and never once have I felt that they were resting on their laurels. Sure, I am a biased fan but given how many times I’ve checked them out, my statistics are pretty reliable.

So, my girlfriend and I made it to our seats in the 3rd or 4th row about an hour early, fidgeting with an anticipation that can hardly be described. If my memory is right, the trio started out with a song called Seams, which closes the album Never Stop II. And right away, it all felt familiar and oddly new at the same time. This slow-burner has a sparse melody sitting over a beautiful chord progression, the perfect opener for the seamlessly constructed set that followed. A rubato theme stumbles forward with bass and drums providing contrapuntal foil. It wasn’t the easiest choice to kick off the concert but they made it happen. Geez, these guys can build drama from scratch. I can’t remember the exact sequence of songs that followed, but I know they pretty much covered the new album, with a couple of old songs mixed in for yours truly’s pleasure. Reid Anderson’s emceeing in French added a humorous tone that spoke to the fun they all seem to have in playing this complex and unique music. On this old favorite of mine composed by drummer Dave King, Keep The Bugs Off your Glass And The Bears Off Your Ass (great title)- Reid soloed extensively and powerfully, making every note matter in Charlie Hadenesque fashion. As Orrin laid out, Dave punctuated his bandmate’s phrases with sizzling enthusiasm and a few vocalized “ha ha”(not sure how to transcribe this) before Orrin reentered to take the tune out.

Finding a replacement for a leaderless trio of this caliber has to be one of the most challenging things to do. This ideal replacement speaks to the musicians’ deep commitment to pursuing their art against ominous odds. It’s amazing to hear that this living organism withstood such a dramatic storm without a scratch. Musically at least. As much as I loved Iverson’s idiosyncratic style, Orrin brings something new and invigorating to the table without altering the essence of what this music is about. It was particularly moving to hear the pianist take on these old quirky Bad Plus songs, injecting his soulful groove-powered lines and still making it sound like The Bad Plus. You could hear the reverence for music he embraced as a listener a long time ago. He probably never would have thought that he would be part of the story many years down the road. The joy, the exhilaration was all palpable, the musicians sneaking smiles at one another, reveling in their newfound chemistry that yet seems to have been there forever. King’s arms flew around the drums in his signature octopus style but never overplayed. On the heaviest tunes, they all have each other’s back, dialed in, making sure that if they’re loud, the others are too. Astounding. By the time they got into Wolf Out, I could have howled my head off if it wasn’t for my natural timidity. As always, the trio shares composition credits equally, as demonstrated by Reid’s announcements between songs. Watching and hearing a band so dialed in to each other, so respectful of each other’s contributions to art in the moment is very uplifting. Reid Anderson’s Trace and Hurricane Birds were magnificent and showcased one more time his versatility as both a great bassist and composer. When the band came back onstage for the encore, they chose Everywhere You Turn off their 2003 album These Are The Vistas. Looking back and ahead to the future. One of the things I have loved from the get-go with this band is the joyful melancholia that radiates from the tunes. To me, it always feels like a comforting balm that says “it’s okay, we’re screwed, but, listen, we are going to be okay”. It’s not a bad feeling.

The Bad Plus has a new album out, Never Stop II.  Get it now. And go hear them live whereever they are.

The Bad Plus, Inevitable Western

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As nearly 2 years worth of blogging have presumably demonstrated, wellyouneedit loves The Bad Plus. I remember that moment of epiphany when I stumbled across These are the Vistas (2003) playing on the headphones in the deserted jazz section of my local record store. On their 10th studio album, Inevitable Western, the genre-bending trio bring their nonpareil mix of low-brow complexity, constantly reinventing themselves and transcending the confines of musical categorization. As bassist Reid Anderson brilliantly summarized in a recent interview, « at the core, we’re jazz musicians and we’re improvisers, but don’t consider we have to make our music sound like jazz necessarily. We try to bring a strong energy to what we do. »

Point taken. I would even argue that this band, by deliberately steering clear of the well-trodden path, does great justice to the perpetuation of the artform on their own terms. The Bad Plus celebrates the timeless appeal of jazz as a freeing process, a way to make improvised music culturally relevant in any time period. But I digress…

Consisting of 9 songs, the album features all the trademark elements of Bad Plus music: Tuneful deconstructions, collective improvisation, tight interplay, multisectional songs, catchy melodies played over intricate and changing meters, and plenty of drama. Try “Self-Serve”, the third song. Sure, drummer Dave King pounds out a solid 4/4 rock beat at times but the song is driven by the band’s signature stop-and-go motion, fits and starts that give the song an offbeat and layered quality. They make it sound so natural and yet at every listen you’re scratching your head and wondering how in the world can anyone hear music that way.

“Gold Prisms Incorporated” gets the classic epic anthem treatment, a rollicking train charging through the wild west, picking up multiple variations and rhythmic displacements along the way. As often in The Bad Plus funhouse, repetition is the tricky vehicle for motivic improvisation. At 2.42, Iverson’s solo begins on a folkloric note, gradually building away from the initial melody as King and Anderson continue to restate it underneath. Soon enough, King and Anderson lock in with Iverson’s syncopated left hand line – the new melody in progress. And bang! At 3:48, the new motif takes over, the story reaches its apex, played in unison as King chops the beat to smithereens. After the storm blows over, at 4:25, Anderson’s bass introduces a nice simple vamp soon picked up by Iverson that takes the song to its logical conclusion. That’s a pretty eventful train ride right there in 6:28 minutes.

“Epistolary echoes” is a fun merry-go-round, with hand claps and a toy piano thrown in for good measure. Bass and drum seem very happy to chase each other as Iverson tosses off Cecil Taylorish clusters, seeking a way out of the jungle. Luckily, there is always one.

After 15 years of intense touring around the world, the band has developed a habit of honing their songs live. Studio albums come about as a documentation of an ongoing process, each new album seemingly picking up where the last one left off. A funny game if you want to indulge your Bad Plus fanhood is to try to match songs from various albums and notice their similarities in conception. That’s where cohesive art comes in. It’s an oeuvre in and of itself. If one really wants to come up with a catchall adjective to define this music, cinematic seems to be the operative word. Structurally, it is hard to dispute the narrative arc of these songs, which all have their own story and mood, revealing their drama in suspenseful sections. Just imagine if “Mr Now” had been the A-Team theme music in the 80s? Of yeah, I can so much see Mister T storming out of a burning truck over that frantic piano line. Sorry…

“Inevitable Western”, the title tune, is the fitting coda to this thrilling movie. After the brainy comedy, the action flick, the epic western and everything in between, it’s time to take things down and revel in some Bad Plus melancholia.  Introduced by Anderson’s gorgeous tone, Iverson’s ballad smolders gently and showcases the pianist’s compositional talent and command of the jazz and classical canon, right down to the very filmic last note.

In this fast-evolving and increasingly complex age where nothing seems to make sense anymore, these consummate musicians make complexity somehow make sense. In that way, they are in my book one of the most compelling soundtracks to this early 21st century. Nobody sounds like The Bad Plus. Nobody.

The Bad Plus, Inevitable Western (OKey, Sony Music Masterworks)

Full discography here: http://www.thebadplus.com/discography.php

THE BAD PLUS SPRING

cd-RiteOfSpring

Spring is here. And The Bad Plus have a record out. Perfect timing for releasing their interpretation of Stravinsky’s modern masterpiece, The Rite of Spring.

That one of the most innovative jazz groups of the early 21st century is taking on one of the most innovative musical statements of the 20th century should not be surprising. Anyone who has seen The Bad Plus live knows that their most aggressive acts of deconstruction are always waged with a peaceful agenda and an ingrained loyalty to the original mood of a piece. This time around, that loyalty shines in minute detail, minus the deconstruction. At this point in their nearly 15-year-old journey, the band has amply demonstrated they are equally good at transcending the most unlikely material and writing music that feels immediately and distinctively theirs.

I hope their take on Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring will cause the same rioting as the original did at its Paris première back in 1913. Consider this: a seminal jazz trio consisting of piano, acoustic bass and drums perform their rendition of a piece that a hundred years down the line hasn’t lost its revolutionary appeal.

As pianist Ethan Iverson explained a while ago on his excellent blog DTM (like to drop that every chance I get), the three musicians were initially awed by the task. Who wouldn’t be? The amazing thing about this album is that it sounds so much like the original masterpiece and so much like a Bad Plus album. In fact, it almost feels like Stravinsky wrote a trio score of The Rite. Of course, they are inevitable adjustments to make in the pared-down instrumentation of a trio, the drums being a major one. Taut, pulsing, swinging, this literal interpretation of a classical masterpiece is a both reverential and transformative tribute to the original orchestration.

The reviews have flooded the Internet in the last few days, with detailed and insightful commentary. So I might as well back off here and let you read them and enjoy the music.

To think that these guys are cranking out original compositions regularly and still finding the time to interpret Stravinsky is pretty confounding. But what can you do? They are The Bad-ass Plus. They will always surprise us.

Listen to the album on NRR here

Or live here

PS: The Plus have tackled Stravinsky previously. Check out their take on Variation d’Apollon from their album For All I Care.

In steady rotation

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As 2013 draws to a close, wellyouneedit celebrates its one-year anniversary. How did that happen? It’s been a bumpy road and I’m still not sure why I bother to put these thoughts out there. Oh well, for writing’s sake, I guess, which is a pretty good reason, isn’t it? Here, I want to thank my handful of faithful readers scattered around France and the globe. You know who you are.

The year-end lists are flooding the Internet. With a jazz-heavy listening and playing schedule to handle, I simply don’t have the time to check out the plethora of good “non-jazz” music released in this day and age. As a music fan, though, I like to think that this thing called jazz is not as insular and monolithic as the naysayers would have you believe. Today’s prominent improvisers tap into all kinds of music and extramusical sources to shape their path in the continuum. The result of that blending process doesn’t always work but it is integral to this art. As the aggressive debates raging on the Internet and the blogosphere show, the term jazz is very restrictive and contentious in many ways. Specifically, it doesn’t acknowledge the shape-shifting qualities at work in spontaneous collective improvisation, and it doesn’t do justice to the musicians who have continuously pushed the envelope to move the music forward. But for lack of a better and all-embracing term, we’re just going to have to stick with it for a while! If there’s anything to change about the presentation of jazz to the neophyte, it might involve defining it not so much as a music style per se as an approach to addressing and appropriating musical content – Duke Ellington or Bjork, it doesn’t matter.  The purists will take issue with that view, but the purists are wrong. Get real, purists! Trying to dictate what an art is and what it is not is a pointless struggle. The following list is a random and unrated selection of albums that played on a regular basis or caught my ear, here at wellyouneedit, in 2013. Inevitably, a lot of it is jazz, but in my book good music transcends category. Enjoy.

Dave King, I’ll Be Ringing you (2012)

With fellow Minnesotans Bill Carrothers and Billy Preston, the drummer revisits the standards with haunting introspection.  A well-tended fire smolders through this quiet record.  Huddle up, make some tea and kill the lights. And swing by the wynit archive for the short album review.

Brad Mehldau Trio, House on Hill (2006)

I finally decided which of Brad Mehldau’s albums I would take on a desert island. Right down to the enlightening liner notes (on Bach, Brahms and Monk), this one is a stellar document of the early trio (with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy). Strong compositions and high-caliber playing for all involved.

Orrin Evans, Flip the script (2012); Blessed ones (2001)

The ability of these tight trios (bassists Eric Revis and Ben Wolfe and drummers Nasheet Waits and Donald Edwards) to bend the swing tradition and honor it at the same time keeps astounding me. The demotion job on Autumn Leaves will have you scratching your head first time around but sound magically obvious after a few listens.

Matana Roberts,  Mississippi Moonchile (2013)

A powerful artistic statement from the great alto saxophonist and multidisciplinary artist. This beautiful suite is Roberts’ personal take on Black American history, specifically through her female lineage. The music is a seamless collage/conflation of the various strands of African-American music. The fascinating story continues.

The Bad Plus, Made Possible (2012)

Epic melancholia, joyful abandon, frantic energy and telepathic cohesion. The trio does make anything possible. In the words of drummer Dave King « this band contains some of the most punk energy I’ve ever seen or heard as a musician ». But make no mistake, this is unquestionably as tight and honest a modern jazz trio as it gets. Watch the EPK for their 2012 record and check out the amazing discography.

Vijay Iver Trio, Accelerando (2012)

The award-winning pianist has the critics divided. Undaunted, I listen to the staccato rhythms of bassist Stephen Crump and Marcus Gilmore and nod to the vibe.

Glenn Gould,  Bach English Suites , Inventions & Sinfonias (1982)

To think that all of Bach’s keyboard music was conceived for the harpsichord is confounding, especially when played by Glenn Gould on piano. Timeless.

Mark Turner, Yam Yam (1994), Dharma Days (2001)

Whether the album cover of Yam Yam was a wise marketing decision is a matter of personal aesthetics but the music shows off Turner’s tasteful lyricism and hugely influential voice on tenor. Dharma Days is the one to get. Features Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Reid Anderson (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums).

Eric Revis, Parallax (2012)

The potent bassist delivers a fine inside/outside jazz offering. Serious chops and burning grooves across the board. Features Nasheet Waits (drums), Jason Moran (piano) and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax and clarinet)

J Dilla, Donuts (2006)

The legendary hip hop producer probably owned a sizable record collection. This album splices together a nice selection of soul and rap cuts from the 60s onward. I usually play the first song and find myself listening through the album.

Geri Allen, The Life of a Song (2004)

In the company of such heavyweights as Dave Holland and Jack de Johnette, Geri Allen found sympathetic support to deliver her groove-packed set of originals and rearranged standards. There isn’t a weak moment in this program. Highly recommended.

Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Lieder (2010)

Smooth-flowing dialogue between two singular voices of free forms. Shipp’s dark low-end tones take on a welcome brightness against Jones’ honking enthusiasm.

Melanie De Biasio, No Deal (2013).

With the pared-down instrumentation of flute, drums and keyboard, Melanie De Biasio’s enveloping vocals push through the ether with grace and a sense of subdued drama.

Drew Gress, Black Butterflies  (2005)

Lush writing, infectious grooves and free blowing make up this alluring album.For Craig Taborn’s solo on the song Bright Idea alone, this one is worth a good listen. Features Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (Trumpet), Craig Taborn (piano), Tom Rainey (drums).

John Coltrane  The Classic Quartet – the complete Impulse studio recordings (1961-1965)

Immortal. What would jazz have sounded like if that quartet hadn’t existed? Eternally inspiring.

Thelonious Monk

Do I really have to drum the point home? You have to get with Monk. Period.

Craig Taborn Light Made Lighter (2001)

Taborn’s debut album amply demonstrates his versatility in the classic piano trio format. A good place to start.

Butcher Brown – A sides B sides

On their self-released and generously free (cop it on their website) debut, Butcher Brown make instrumental groove music that sounds oddly new despite the overt references to 70s funk. An ideal moodsetter that doesn’t sacrifice musicianship for chilling’s sake. Check it out.

Elmo Hope, Complete Studio Recordings

What a tragic life his was. It’s time to restore Hope’s profound contribution to modern jazz piano music. No less than Monk’s best friend and favorite player.

Julia Holter  Loud City Song (2013)

Wow. This one almost didn’t make my list. There is definitely more than ambient and pop to this music. But for now I’ll settle for uncategorizable.

And countless more to satisfy the music junkie’s appetite but that I’m too lazy to write a single word about.

Listening to silence. Dave King’s “I’ve been ringing you”

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As one third of The Bad Plus, Dave King is known for his high-powered drumming and phenomenal precision, fitting qualities for this leaderless trio that makes telepathy seem like a walk in the park. King’s versatile drums are so integral to the band’s organic chemistry it’s hard to imagine the drummer lending his voice to other musical adventures. Yet, he maintains a hectic musical schedule, playing in 8 bands of various styles and configurations.  To great effect.

On his new record under his own name, “I’ve been ringing you” (Sunnyside), King hooks up with fellow Minnesotans, pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson, and makes quiet but intense music. The album consists of 8 songs, including 7 standards tastefully reconfigured for the 21st century and infused with a dark introspection. The record documents King’s deep reverence for the jazz tradition and showcases his impressionistic talents when playing songs in a more “straight-ahead” format.  The choice of slow tempos on all the songs emphasizes the meditative mood that permeates the album, which would not be out of place in ECM’s stylish catalogue. In fact, King’s subdued drumming, not so much playing time as messing with it, sounds to some degree like an inspired continuation of the late Paul Motian’s work on Manfred Eicher’s prestigious label.

The opener “goodbye” (Gordon Jenkins) sets the mood, a spacious meditation that never seems to start and actually sounds all the better for it. Carrother’s eerie voicings are an invitation to daydreaming appropriately highlighted by Peterson’ discreet pedal-point commentary and King’s soft touch on brushes and whale songish waterphone. The band continues with Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, a respectful rendition that honors the melody by roving around it and stating it in various permutations. As on the rest of the album, that particular song is a striking example of cohesive collective improvisation, drums and bass rumbling along with Carrother’s ghostly lines, constantly interacting with piano.  Cole Porter’s “So in Love” is introduced by King”s crisp  crackle and features a resonant solo by Peterson, a new name for me that shines throughout the record. Clocking in at 38:45 minutes, the album delivers on a bold agenda, one that finds King reassessing his well-deserved place alongside today’s preeminent jazz improvisers. While the music remains consistently calm, it is executed with an intensity suggesting a brooding storm. There is no mushiness in the way the trio addresses the standards here. Listen to how “If I Should Lose You” gradually emerges from Peterson’s cavernous glissandi, taking shape along meandering lines, picking its way through the murk, with King latching on to piano and bass every nanosecond.  The title song  and only original that bookends the record is the perfect coda of this suite, picking up where the opener left off.  With winter only a couple of months away, it’s a record you might consider playing on a cold snowy day, huddled up under the quilt or late at night, lights out on any given day. Having said that, what will sound like a singular take on familiar territory to the hardcore jazz fan will always sound a little esoteric to the casual listener.  But if anything, the record will hopefully resonate with anyone who enjoys the strange intensity of silence.

Dave King, I’ve been ringing you (Sunnyside, 2012)

wolf out, The Bad Plus

Anyone with an interest in modern jazz has at least heard of this genre-defying trio. For those who have been sleeping, this video from a 2004 concert at the Village Vanguard is fairly good quality youtube footage and a good place to start. To say that I love this band doesn’t even come close to describing my undying fandom. But until I put together a half-decent post on their music, check out Wolf Out, off their newly released album Made Possible.  Watch the wolf creep out of the wood, feel the minimalist vibe, delight in the odd-meter mystery, enjoy this eerie animal.