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Published: 2004/05/29
by Brad Farberman

Give – The Bad Plus

The Bad Plus is jazz to blow away metalheads: one can imagine unsuspecting Tool fans rocking out to their new record. And that, in itself, is great; if just one Black Sabbath freak finds their way to Coltrane by way of the piano trio's obtuse take on "Iron Man," then the drivel turned out by these three Midwesterners has served as a blessing. But for jazzbos aware of what a trio can accomplish, The Bad Plus does not deliver. On Give, a music steeped in Charlie Parker caters to an audience steeped in Alice Cooper.

And that's fine. Just don't call their music "the future of jazz," or "a breath of fresh air." Instead, see them for what they are: an amalgam of talent and ambition that has no place in the jazz world.

King, for instance, is a drummer of considerable ability whose command over his instrument might better suit Primus, or a Led Zeppelin cover band; his playing sounds out of context in this setting, not "fresh." And Iverson, a great pianist with solid jazz chops, plays with too much restraint and too little emotion. He needs to take the reins more often, as opposed to adding color where appropriate; it seems he'd rather noodle about than make a statement of any intent or meaning.

Reid Anderson, however, stands out. His thoughtful bass work is articulate, and smart; he subtly weaves strong phrases in and out of Iverson's meandering flourishes and King's Pearl Jam-isms.

Additionally, he delivers one of the record's strongest compositions, "And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation." The piece's simple, honest melody remains with the listener, a quality that no other cut on Give can boast. Anderson's playing here is viable and expressive (listen to "Frog and Toad" for some of his best playing).

Other highlights include the trio's workout on "Velouria," a Pixies tune. The group really links up on this one, playing with an emotional sensibility unheard elsewhere on the album.

Unfortunately, one can't help but reference other works in an attempt to quantify what's at hand, and Medeski, Martin and Wood's "Hey Joe" comes to mind. On Tonic, the boys from Brooklyn turn Jimi’s psychedelic standard into a slow burner and really work it out.

But The Bad Plus's "Velouria" is no match for any of MMW's Hendrix impersonations, or their gospel throw-down on Sly's "Everyday People." The Plus lack group dynamics and a unique voice, elements that Medeski, Martin and Wood own to excess.

MMW also keep things fresh on their studio recordings, an idea that The Bad Plus might care to expand on. From start to finish, Give exhibits the same dry, moody vibe; the Plus can grab points for establishing a consistent temperament, but there’s got to be variety inside of that temperament.

And on Give, there isn’t. All the tunes sound alike. Iverson might benefit from experimenting with an organ or rhodes but, in the end, no vintage keyboard will fill in the gaps where creative improvisations or interesting compositions should have been carefully situated.

So if you're interested in "the future of jazz," or "a breath of fresh air," check out Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. And if you're eager to hear what it sounds like when jazz and rock make love, pick up Darts. Just don’t waste your time on Give. Unless you like Tool.

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