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Published: 2005/05/08
by Brad Farberman

Blunt Object: Live in Tokyo – The Bad PlusHold Me To This – Christopher O’Riley

Columbia Records 92876

World Village 468034

I'm guilty: I've hated on The Bad Plus. And I still don't like Give (it sounds sterile and one-dimensional to me). But I do like to give (ehh? Punny?) credit where credit’s due, so let me tell you what’s up: Blunt Object, the new live record from the Badders (available only through TheBadPlus.com or from the iTunes store), is really rockin’. It’s fun and explosive and goofy and nasty (in all the right ways). It’s the good plus.

And the Japanese kids seem to love em (it was recorded last year in Tokyo), so why shouldn't I? I've resisted them too long I guess.

Or maybe, like many bands worth their salt, their studio output can't hold a candle to their show (I caught them at Bonnaroo for a few minutes, and that was sick, too).

In any event, call me a convert, but this record is great, and deserves your attention. Yeah, David King still doesn't sound like Elvin. And they're still two-thirds bald (yep, there's only three of em acoustic piano trio). But give em a chance like I didn't. You should be pleasantly surprised.

Or at least you'll be pleasant when you hear what they do with "We Are the Champions." They jazz it, they rock it, they push it and pull it and twist and turn it without ever really straying from the theme (in a good way) and it builds and builds and it's funny and intense and it's awesome. Freddie would be proud (would he?).

And bassist Reid Anderson should be proud of what they do with his "And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation." Its simple, minor melody rides atop a chaotic drum groove and quick, pseudo-dirty piano lines until its time to cut loose.

They dabble in drum n' bass, a little bit of dissonance, some runaway train type stuff.

It's great. And so is "Guilty," a quiet ballad by pianist Ethan Iverson. Anderson really gets it on here; he's got a lot to say on his instrument, and his solo spot is fast and slow and bluesy and reflective.

And right on point, just like The Bad Plus on Blunt Object (killer album title, too!). They know what they’re doin’: takin’ apart songs, puttin’ em back together, rippin’ em up in the interim. They’re just doin it a lot heavier than your garden-variety piano trio, and they’re often doin’ it with rock tunes (they do Blondie’s "Heart of Glass" on here, too). But that’s cool.

Likewise, renowned classical pianist Christopher O'Riley is often doin' it with rock tunes, and he's cool too. Hold Me To This, his second disc of Radiohead tunes, is a good listen, a quiet love letter to Thom and co. and a gentle reminder that Radiohead is one of the best things that ever happened.

But does Radiohead really translate to solo piano? Especially if the fingers tickling those ivories are classically trained and then some? Can you jump right from Stravinsky to Yorke and make it convincing?

Pretty much. I mean, O'Riley won't be changing music as we know it with this disc, but that wasn't the point anyway; this is just some pretty, pretty stuff, and it happens to be some of your (or is it just mine?) favorite melodies, spanning the Head's entire career.

He does some really nice work on "There There" (one of the best cuts off Hail to the Thief), plus there’s older, less celebrated (though no less deserving!) stuff on here like "Nice Dreams" and "The Tourist," which makes for a cool listen if you’re a huge Radiohead fan.

Of course, it's missing the grit and fuzz and abrasive, punkish nature integral to the essence of Radiohead, but who's counting? This was a unique idea that worked out and, at least, it should turn a lot of older cats onto Radiohead (they could've called the album Radiohead for Those Who Aren't Ready for Radiohead). Right on.

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