Bad means good

Jazz has never sounded quite like this

OKeri Carlson On the cover of The Bad Plus’ “These are the Vistas,” a robot-like figure made from white squares and rectangles sits over a baby-blue background. Pull the booklet from the CD case and two different but similarly designed forms unfold on top of red and green. These pictures seem to represent the three basic elements that formulate The Bad Plus: bass, piano and drums.

It appears the group is your average stripped-down jazz-trio; however, thanks in part to producer Tchad Blake (Crowded House, Los Lobos, Tom Waits), this is not the case. Each player’s instrument absorbs every wave of sound, making it easy to believe an entire orchestra is playing.

The Dave King composition “1972 Bronze Medalist” proudly marches along to a horse-trot rhythm that perfectly fits the liner notes’ story of a bare-chested, former weightlifting medalist’s strut to the beach. “1972” reflects the charming and quirky humor The Bad Plus always keeps on hand. Pianist Ethan Iverson’s “Guilty,” however, proves the band can put on a coat and tie and get down to serious business. The song begins softly and pleasantly like a wide-eyed child, but the bass becomes heavier and the piano brasher, and finally Iverson’s furious fingers release all his caged confessions.

While the original Bad Plus pieces are stunning works, the real treat on “These are the Vistas” comes from the band’s unique covers. Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is twisted into a laid-back, smoky club groove. The band crashes in a train wreck on the Blondie hit “Heart of Glass,” which features quickly changing tempos and bursts of frantic noise that land in a messy heap before a sudden disco-y dance break. “Flim,” an Aphex Twin cover, highlights Dave King’s celebrated drumming. The trio gives the originally electronic number a warm and human touch, even though you could swear King was a machine, for he fails to miss a single, glitched beat.

The Bad Plus manages an amazing feat. They cover rock songs and transcend any boundaries in jazz, yet still avoid the dreaded “fusion” label. This makes “These are the Vistas” refreshing and probably one of the best jazz albums of the year.

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