The Bad Plus

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Fresh Sound New Talent
PERFORMER: Ethan Iverson (p), Reid Anderson (b), David King (d)
CATALOGUE NO: FSNT 107

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You don’t expect the stately trinity of piano-bass-drums to qualify as any kind of power trio, but that’s what happens with this extraordinary unit. Iverson and Anderson are both leaders in their own right – frequently working in each other’s groups – and both separately and together have already been responsible for some of the most vivid and original new music to emerge from New York circles this past couple of years.

Here, with ‘certifiable mid-western drum star’ David King, they go at a group of their own originals, one standard (‘Blue Moon’) and two pop tunes, playing with superlative gusto and insight.

The treatment of Abba’s ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is a textbook example of the jazz transformation of an uneventful melody, and Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – which the others had to force Iverson into even learning – is turned into a glorious, helter-skelter setpiece, the tune stirred and thickened by the pianist’s voicings while King’s drums swing them off the stand.

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The five originals are fascinating, ‘Labyrinth’ severely beautiful, ‘1972 Bronze Medalist’ peculiarly funky. As for ‘Blue Moon’, Brian Kellock, perhaps the leading pianist in British jazz now, opined when he heard it that there’s more going on in these three minutes than there is in most entire CDs. This Bad band must run and run. Richard Cook