Prog

The Bad Plus

Do The Math Records, 2007

http://www.thebadplus.com

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/20/2009

The Bad Plus is a fearsome contemporary jazz trio often noted for its covers of rock and pop artists like Nirvana and Blondie, though my initial exposure to the group was an original track from Prog, “Giant.” Maybe the song is too long and doesn’t evoke anything, but it was enough for me to notice and eventually buy this record.

At their best, bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King can twist your feelings with a barrage of notes after playing the quiet game. That what’s they do on their cover of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” the opening track of Prog. I’ve always liked that song, but Tears For Fears more or less cemented a melody in my brain, whereas The Bad Plus bring pathos along with that. There is an insightful vulnerability to King’s frantic drum line and Iverson’s insistent piano riff before the conclusion.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Physical Cities,” the second track, has a promising start, but there’s too much banging. It’s almost as if King really wants you to know that he likes John Bonham. The band pounds and pounds, hoping they’ll get to you. Maybe they will, but the damn song is like getting plugged on the ears while boxing.

Speaking of pounding, King is a fine drummer, but his playing is too loud on this album. The production isn’t quite as annoying as Lars Ulrich’s playing on “Nothing Else Matters,” but I pictured myself as King’s father – very unhealthy, I know – sitting in the den: “I don’t care how good you are, keep it down!”

Prog features three other covers. David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” is duly deconstructed and takes off toward the end, much like “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Sadly, the cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” is mostly a simple and boring nod. Finally, the band brings more energy to “This Guy’s In Love With You,” written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David and originally performed by Herb Alpert. Three out of four ain’t bad.

The originals don’t fare as well. There’s nothing wrong with “Mint,” but I can’t name an impressive thing about it. I’m ambivalent toward “Thriftstore Jewelry,” but King throws in an unneeded drum solo, so I should probably hate it. “The World Is The Same” is avant-garde nonsense. I enjoyed the fun “1980 World Champion” more than the other originals and recently found it’s a continuation of two previous Bad Plus tunes, “1972 Bronze Medalist” and “1979 Semi-Finalist” (haven’t listened to either song).

Prog isn’t a bad introduction to the capabilities of The Bad Plus, but judging only by this album, the band doesn’t write as well as it interprets. This might not be true on earlier releases. Despite the occasional obnoxious or boring moment, I like Prog. But it’s not a solid record.

Rating: C+

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© 2009 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Do The Math Records, and is used for informational purposes only.