66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2003
. . . That is, write a second review of a disc I've already reviewed, but since I wrote my first review, a lot of problematic reviews have appeared.
For example, to say that this isn't jazz is just wrong. Ethan Iverson has been on the New York jazz scene for at least five or six years. During that time he and Reid Anderson have played and recorded with some of the most prominent names in jazz such as Mark Turner, Jeff Ballard, and Billy Hart (see their five records on the Fresh Sound New Talent label). A close listen to these albums will validate their jazz credentials beyond dispute. To characterize people of this standing in the jazz world as imposters is simply ludicrous.
David King is a little bit of a different case. He comes from the rock world, and has had a fusion trio, Happy Apple, for several years. Thus, his rhythmic concept and sense of time, let alone his basic approach to his kit, are anything but traditionally jazzy, giving the band a very different flavor than the traditional jazz trio (check out the vibe he creates, and his astounding playing, on "Boo-Wah," e.g.). To me, his imaginative, off-kilter drumming is one of the things that makes this record so special.
There is a certain melodic and harmonic simplicity to this record that could be characterized as unsophisticated, but that's not really true (I really don't know where the idea that it's rhythmically simplistic comes from). It's more of a case of on-purpose accessibility and a desire to connect with a wide (esp. younger) audience than unsophistication. OK, there's a fine line between helping people get into something outside their comfort zone and pandering, but these guys are firmly on the right side of that line. Yes, they can be bombastic, even crude, but that's not because they don't know what they're doing. Again, it's an artistic choice, and one they use very effectively, at least to these ears.
As far as them not being able to play the blues, didn't these people listen to "Guilty"? Moreover, a close listen to Ethan Iverson will confirm that he is a pianist with monster chops.
What's really going on here with the negativity toward this record, I think, is what the French call ressentiment: a deep jealousy, even hatred, toward what is considered unworthy, common, or even just widely accepted. Its perpetrators, the cognoscenti, disdain what they regard as a concession to popular taste. Its upshot is always a counterposition that affirms the "real" thing, culture that is not the province of "imposters."
The negativity is also fueled, certainly, by all the hype this disc has received. Instead of being thrilled that a jazz record has broken out of ghetto, the naysayers grump and grouse about all the money and promotion thrown at the group and record. What's that? We should all be glad the record companies have finally decided to support jazz and that the music is reaching new audiences. Not to do so is small minded.
Startling, brilliant group conversation, exciting improv, an unusual and dynamic soundscape, stellar recording technique, imaginative yet accessible compositions, sly, intelligent covers--that's what I heard in this thoroughly remarkable disc when I first heard it and still do after scores of listenings.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
The instrumentation of The Bad Plus is quite traditional: a trio with piano, acoustic bass, and drums. The music is anything but traditional. These cats push the boundaries and achieve something magical with their energy, enthusiasm, and talent.
This CD, the first major US release for The Bad Plus, contains mostly originals, plus a couple covers of rock tunes that are done very well. All arrangements are fresh & original, and each member of the trio is showcased on a few different tracks. Here are some of the highlights:
The CD opens with "Big Eater," an exciting piece with changing time signatures (7/8 to 3/4 to 4/4), lots of open fifths on the piano and bass, an amazing piano solo that starts out great and builds to an awesome climax. The pianist, Ethan Iverson, can - better than anyone else I can think of - play completely different things rhythmically with both hands, even over (what to other players would be) awkward time signatures. Actually, each member of The Bad Plus has a miraculous sense of time and the ability to anchor to any time signature. More importantly, they make these odd time signatures actually work for the listener, rather than being novelties meant to "show off" their talent.
The second track, "Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass" reminds me a bit of Mingus, with the bass playing the laid-back melody at times (even acappella in some spots), a great acappella bass solo by Reid Anderson, and an absolutely brilliant and exciting piano solo that is one of the few relatively straight-ahead swinging jazz solos on the album.
"Boo-Wah" reminds me a bit of Ornette Coleman and Thelonius Monk. High energy, playing fast & loose with the tempo, and some brilliant playing by all three cats.
"Flim" is a showcase for the drummer David King. I'd describe the tune as almost a lullaby, with a funky drum track on top. Sounds weird, huh? But it works brilliantly. You will be playing this track over and over.
The Nirvana cover "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is maybe the last thing you'd expect a jazz piano trio to cover. But The Bad Plus does a wonderful arrangement of it, and will likely bring some young rock fans into the jazz fold with this one.
On all tracks, The Bad Plus deliver performances that have the energy and intensity usually heard only live. Somehow, they capture that energy in the studio and it burns through your speakers and into your gut. Hearing this CD really is an emotionally engaging experience.
More recently, The Bad Plus have released a newer CD entitled "Give." If you're more into the jazz-rock sound, you may like "Give" better. If you're more into straight-ahead jazz (but are not too conservative in your tastes), you may like "These Are The Vistas" better. I think both are amazing, though I prefer "These Are The Vistas" because it seems to have more jazz improvisation and more tunes that come close to resembling what I think of as jazz.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2003
I am a very fluent jazz musician and listener, and to tell you the truth... most new jazz albums I have heard in the last year or so (beside reissues)... well, have [stunk].
Not this, though. I purchased The Bad Plus' new album "These Are the Vistas" just yesterday and can say that this is by far one of the greatest records I have ever heard.
The tunes that this piano-bass-drum trio play (and write) are just so fresh. If you're looking for a set of standards, do not buy this. Such tracks as "1972 Bronze Medalist" and "Big Eater" are just so new and revolutionary sounding. And the deconstruction they did of "Smells Like Teen Spirit"... just absolutely insane. I know that having such a tune on a jazz record seems cheesy, but its not. The song swings like nothing else.
The chemistry that this trio seems to have is outstanding too. The flowing groovy bass-lines of Reid Anderson, the stylistic and very sophisticated drumming of Dave King, and the harmonically rich and intelligent piano lines of pianist Ethan Iverson all add together to produce this wildly cinematic sound.
This, here, just proves how jazz is so alive.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2005
My friend lent me this cd because he said, "these are the people that will save jazz." I'm not sure if jazz necessarily needs to be saved, but the fact that he said it made me curious. So, I popped in the cd, listened once and liked it. Then I listened to it again, and I loved it. Now, I consider it to be my most favorite album. It grew and me and my love for it has not waned.
I was so impressed by the lasting effects of the music; there's so much emotion in it. For example, when I listen to "Silence is the question," I cannot do anything else, I stop whatever i'm doing. It's eight gold minutes long. Every so often I play it right before I go to sleep. The music is so vivid. Listening to it provokes so many images and emotions in me that I can only listen to it alone.
This is not your cocktail party jazz! It's clever art. The jazz rendition of "smells like teen spirit" clearly illuminates their wit and talent. I recommend this cd to those who like sophistication in their music, but also like a sort of spirited, youthful air mixed in too.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2003
This CD showed me just how powerful the internet could be when it comes to discovering new music. I read about The Bad Plus in the latest issue of Jazz Times, then the next day went to Amazon.com to check out reviews. Being generally positive...I downloaded "Silence is the Question" and their cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I was impressed by the Nirvana cover, but "Silence.." hit me like a sledgehammer upside the head!!! What a mind boggling track. Needless to say, I went out and bought the CD that afternoon...because I just couldn't wait. It reminds me of vintage Radiohead, though they are an acoustic trio, with moments of sheer cacophony followed by some of sublime beauty. Many reviewers have already raved about the same song, but you simply must hear it to believe it. This is what I love about the internet. Being able to hear a couple of full tracks allowed me to form an opinion on a new artist and then put money in those artists' pockets. The whole CD is simply stellar, with the trio meshing like a well-oiled machine. Special kudos to drummer Dave King, whose adventurous rhythms place this trio above just about any other on the scene today. "Big Eater" would make Mingus smile, with its carefully controlled chaos, while their cover of Aphex Twin's "Flim" is gorgeous (and lets King add many fluid drum rolls to the original programmed drum track). Here's hoping that The Bad Plus become this year's Norah Jones, an act that builds from word of mouth into a phenomenon based on music, not piercings and tattoos!! Do your duty and spread the word.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2003
The studio debut by The Bad Plus, "These Are The Vistas", is the most exciting "jazz" disc I have heard since "Introducing Brad Mehldau". I put the word jazz in quotes because this CD is difficult to categorize with covers such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" originally by Nirvana and "Heart of Glass" from Blondie. It is, however rooted in jazz, rock, and other influences. For example, the second track "Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass" is a syncopated, angular piece reminiscent of classic "Brilliant Corners" era Monk. "Everywhere You Turn" is a simple but beautiful tune beginning with a whisper and reaching a powerful crescendo followed by a decrescendo. The simple piano work echoes some of the work from Erik Satie. "Flim" is a fun, syncopated cover featuring David King's funky drum work. Topping it off is the unique but wonderful Nirvana cover "Smells Like Teen Spirit" featuring Reid Anderson's driving bass lines and Ethan Iverson's adroit piano work. I dare you to stop listening to this refreshing and unusual collection from a group that I suspect will be around for a long time.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2003
This is one of the more interesting releases in the past 5 or 6 years in jazz circles, if not all of music period. Sharing their drummer with the equally innovative group Happy Apple, The Bad Plus are most definitely rewriting the rules for jazz. Beyond the originals (1972 Bronze Medalist is the best of the bunch, by far), the covers of Heart of Glass (originally by Blondie) and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana -- but you already knew that) are a breath of fresh air. It's about time jazz got away from the fascism of the "Great American Songbook" and started incorporating songs that might actually resonate with modern listeners. By deconstructing these two covers, they have found completely new things to say on both of them. The same roughly goes for Ethan Iverson's composition style; it's minimalist, but it's nevertheless quite striking. This is a stirring listen from beginning to end. A final note: if you're looking for "safe" jazz music, keep looking. This is one of the more engaging listens mainstream jazz has offered in quite some time. Easily recommended. At the price Amazon is offering it at, buy two.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2003
I finally got around to this LP, after hearing all the praise that's been heaped on this trio. I approached "The Beautiful Vistas" with a degree of cautious optimism. While I was certain the music would be better than what the naysayers would have you believe, I also wasn't sure if the Bad Plus could justify the hype on this record. Well, I'm happy to report that this fine album passes the test with flying colors. You could practically close your eyes while listening to this LP, pretend the year is 1967, and wouldn't guess that this record was recorded in 2002. That's how timeless and fresh the music really is. The trio of players --a bassist, a drummer, and piano player-- fuse traditional jazz with pop sensibilities without sounding overly trendy. I braced myself for their cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and yet I was surprised to see how faithful their version remains to the original while they inject their own identity and flavor. But the track that really made my ears stand up was their cover of "Flim." I've been familiar with the Apex Twin original for years, and I never guessed that these guys would turn this electronic piece into such a pretty jazz number. However, the Bad Plus aren't some cheap lounge act that does only covers. They stand tall on the merits on their own compositions, such as the elegant "Everywhere You Turn" and "Big Eater," whose piano by Ethan Iverson often sounds like the work of a post-Y2K Dave Brubeck. All in all, this is a smashingly good record. It's not terribly original, but the music is done with skill and passion. Sit back and enjoy the "vistas."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2003
I've had this CD for a few months now, and every once in awhile I would get the urge to put it in the player and check out a few of the tracks I liked best. I've always been especially fond of their rendition of the Aphex Twin track "Flim" and the first track "Big Eater", is just unignorably wonderful. Other than those two, and a few other occasional full length listenings, I hadn't really paid much attention to this disc.
Two nights ago, however, for whatever reason, I decided to put "These Are The Vistas" in and listen all the way through. It was the first time in awhile, a long while, that I've set aside enough time to simply sit and listen to music undistracted. In the past few years I've used music to manipulate my mood or influence my writing, but I hadn't actually sat and listened to music for its own sake since I studied jazz a few years ago.
A series of sensations overcame me upon my listening, either motivated by the music itself or my emotional state at the time or a combination of the both:
First was awe over the talent of the performers. The first thing that hits you is the drumming. It's probably the most expressive part of the music, alternately volatile and tender, sounding furious and consoling as the music requires.
Second was my realization of The Bad Plus' compositional skill. Despite the hype surrounding their cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", I've found it to be one of the weakest and uninteresting tracks on the album. It's still a wonderful song, completely stirring, but it doesn't hold up to their originals, not one bit. There is a startling respect for melody in this group, and despite the improvisational gifts these musicians have, they are first and foremost composers, all things working together in service to the song.
The next thing that stuck me was the power of the music -- not just in volume, but in strength. I've heard elsewhere where The Bad Plus is compared to a rock band because of the attack they have with their instruments, and I am in total agreement. ...
The final sensation that came about as a result of listening to this brilliant brilliant album was an understanding of beauty. Contained everywhere within is BEAUTY, in the "plastic bag in American Beauty" sense of the word. There are parts of this album, such as the latter half of "Everywhere You Turn" and everything from "Flim" to the end, that leave you completely breathless. This album is a life-changer, a deal-maker, an all-annihilating self of sense with a pretty blue cover. I cannot, obviously, say enough good things about this CD. With every listen I want to run around outside with my discman held in front of me, saying "Here, listen to this" to people passing by in the street. I want to go to the nearest record store and buy a second copy, just to have one in case.
If the apocalypse were to happen and, in our post-apocolyptic world, we were to use great artifacts of music as currency, then you would be wise to buy as many copies of this CD as you are able. There needs to be shelves of this disc in bomb shelters around the world. It should be played in the headphones of every child, on the intercom of every business.
Oh, and it's funky too.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2003
My favorite jazz DJ, when he is about to play something especially worth hearing, says "pay attention." Man do those two words fit this CD and this group.
I consider myself a jazz purist, by and large, so I was a bit concerned about all the hype I was hearing about this groups originality. The concern was ill founded because with all the uniqueness of the group, there is still melody and direction. There are even classical touches here (you can tell where these guys came from). But what especially did it for me upon my first listen was the intensity, the tension. I love music that builds and grows; this is why I can listen to Blakey's stuff endlessly. Well, it all happens here.
These guys are incredible, and where they could possibly take jazz down the road is really worth watching.
So don't fall for all the stuff about this not being jazz because of the rock influences etc. and therefore it's to be avoided. If you go down that path, you will miss out on something really special.
So pay attention.