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Music Review: The Bad Plus — Never Stop

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Walking music.  That was my first impression of the title track for the latest release from The Bad Plus.  Never Stop was released September 14, 2010 by Entertainment One.  The complete CD has been streaming this week on NPR’s “Exclusive First Listen” series and bassist Reid Anderson says of the title cut, “…it’s actually fashion show music that we’ve played for a couple of fashion shows.”  Yeah, that’s it, not quite the mental image of Travolta on the city streets, it’s a hot model on the runway in the latest designs. 

This is not your typical jazz combo.   Nor is it a lounge/bar band.  It certainly isn’t a garage rock band.  In fact there are a lot of things The Bad Plus is “NOT.”  One thing for sure, they are NOT boring.  They are definitely innovative.  Just take a look at a few of the tags  on Amazon.com used to describe them: progressive music, avante garde, alternative rock, alternative jazz, experimental, and post-bebop, just to name a few.

Anderson has been playing with pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King for ten years as “The Bad Plus.”  Never Stop contrasts with their most recent release, For All I Care, in that all ten pieces are instrumental — a blank check for more progressive experimentation as they continue their assault on musical conventions.

The first track, “The Radio Tower Has A Beating Heart” reminded me of an orchestra warming up with the inclusion of several momentum-gathering crescendos leading up to sound explosions — you can almost see the fireworks.  The explosion results in a melding of the cacophony of sounds into a simply pleasing piano melody supported by the bass and drums.

The interlude between tracks is brief. The warm-up is over and the ride through ten original compositions begins with a piano segue into the title song.

For this project, the trio decided to go back to the scene of two previous recordings in Minnesota.  They set up their equipment in the same room. Drummer, King, says, “We approached the recording of this album more like a jazz record from the ‘50’s or ‘60’s,”..”to eliminate studio separation”. “It created a really free atmosphere, as if we were playing a show.”  After ten years together, they’ve played over a thousand gigs and that “playing a show” feeling comes through on Never Stop.

Some experiments go awry — picture the scientist walking out of a lab with soot on his face, his hair in disarray, glasses crooked and lab coat unbuttoned and askew.  These guys are way past that.  “My Friend Metatron” might easily be considered “experimental” upon first hearing.  Listen again.  There’s a story there if you listen.   The sounds from just three instruments never cease to amaze — as does the synergy of a decade of experience.

“People Like You” has a mellow “dim lit room with the one you love” feel and made me look around for a bottle of scotch.   “Bill Hickman at Home” features an upright piano with the tuning adjusted to give that saloon, almost rag-time sound.  But the song isn’t ragtime, it’s a deliberately paced blues tune that like many of the tracks here, give the individual members a chance to shine.

The album closes with the uptempo hand-clapping (really) Super America.  The head includes a wink to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and leaves the listener with a smile and most likely the memory of clapping along with the guys.

Fans will groove to Never Stop and anyone open to something new in the world of jazz/rock/alternative will be attracted and quite likely, hooked. Find out more at their blog and get their tour dates here.

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  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Thanks for the heads up on their new album!

    I love these guys even if I don’t dig all of their albums. BUT, this album is fantastic and it is a reassuring statement that they recorded it in a natural form instead of following the current trend of releasing over-produced schlock that doesn’t hold up in a live setting. The Bad Plus are brilliant and are another perfect example of a band that has the talent & musicianship to blaze its own trail while releasing accessible & thought-provoking material.

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