Tuesday October 28, 2014
From Pop Matters
The Bad Plus: Inevitable Western
By: Will Layman
The Bad Plus, the piano/bass/drums jazz trio that has been breaking the mold for about 15 years, returns to its own compositions with Inevitable Western after releasing its version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” earlier in 2014. That exercise, however, was as “Bad Plus” as anything else they have ever done: rigorous in some ways, yet wildly exciting, a form or interpretation but stamped by their own creativity. Most of all, it was entirely surprising. It lacked improvisation, which now returns on Inevitable Western, but the similarities between the two discs are more notable than the differences.
Rite of Spring gave equal weight to each of the trio’s voices, and it balanced thrilling polyrhythms and daring melodic exploration. Inevitable Western does that too, but it also brings back a sense of swing and spontaneous exploration on some tracks. That said, its dominant features are hardly “jazzy”. The tunes are built around complex time signatures and structures that eschew the usual jazz trope of theme-solos-theme. Rather, even the most bopping track, “Self Serve” by pianist Ethan Iverson, begins with a repetition of a single chiming note, which then leads into a theme dominated by a rock-ish bass line doubled by Iverson’s left band and Reid Anderson’s acoustic bass. As Iverson improvises, the band moves into a rhapsodic post-bop free section, yet a written bass line that refers back to the main theme comes in as a repeated referent. This is the jazz tune and, man, as much as Iverson’s right hand swings and uses blues elements, this is still something with the smack of new about it.
For fans looking for more of the band’s frantic passion, there is Iverson’s “Mr. Now”, on which drummer Dave King plays his heart out in funky fashion, rolling and bashing as the piano plays a knotty running line (written and then improvised) that keeps surprising your ear both rhythmically and melodically. If your head doesn’t bob mightily (but irregularly—careful about a sub-threshold concussion), I’d be surprised. The title track also has a swinging center but takes a different approach, with the tempo moderate, and a loping feel that earns the title “Inevitable Western”, I’d say, with King occassionally providing a clip-clop rhythm that locks in with the sound of Reid Anderson’s bass strings slapping the fingerboard. The tune, also Iverson’s, is melancholy and blues-drenched, ending the collection like an elegy.
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