Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Bad Plus - Blunt Object: Live In Tokyo

Arguably the most controversial and hyped group in jazz, the bad boys of the piano/bass/drums trio are back, with their third release for Columbia, the major label which has hired the press agents touting the collective as the "next big thing" in jazz. Of course, leave it to Sony/CBS, they have a lot of experience in doing just that, often with mixed results. While "Live In Tokyo" won't be on sale in stores for a while, it is out on Apple's iTunes download service. In keeping with the name of the band, we'll look at the "pluses" and "minuses" of the new cd, and thus the group.

Bad "Pluses"
They aren't lacking in energy, but also know how to use a wide palette of dynamics, which most jazz and for that matter rock groups don't do.

They interact well as a group, and have a "group" approach and sound.

The first time you hear it, it's kind of interesting.

They have a good sense of humor, in a hyper serious way. But like their constant attempts to be ironic, it gets old after a while.

Their own compositions aren't bad, for what they are.

Bad "Minuses"
You can only get so far on irony. The Bad Plus have gone pretty far on that formula. After a while, the novelty wears off.

The group is even more formulaic than the seeming polar opposite Wynton Marsalis, and his jazz must swing co-hort. Aside from the spastic vocal reference to a few of the lyrics of My Funny Valentine, nothing on the new record is really surprising, once you know the formula.

Neither of the three musicians are significant improvisers on their instruments. Once you get past the dog and pony show that attracts the buzz, "oh they're playing a song by Queen, they're jazz, and look funny, and act funny" there's not much going on. I doubt people are going to be transcribing Reid Anderson solos any time soon.

If you're one of those that think that swing and blues, or at least one of those two, are important to "jazz" than this is not for you. Neither are present. But then, you knew that already.

If I want to hear something that rocks, I'm going to listen to a real rock band. I listen to jazz for something else. This group, like many of the worst of the fusion bands of the 70's, tries to be both and winds up in a musical neverland, knee deep in schlock.

Despite all the press, they aren't that innovative. Jazz meets rock? Done that. Jazz trio plays rock tunes? Done that. Jazz trio goes crazy and makes a lot of intense sound? Done that. The marketing (in jazz terms) is innovative, but that's the most important thing about this group, the show, not the music itself. People say they give jazz a new audience and energy. But I'm not sure how they're going to to anything for "jazz" but help "The Bad Plus".


Blogger Tim Niland said...

Wow - great blog... keep up the good work.

- Tim

11:26 AM  
Blogger js said...

I agree with the minuses of this band. Too much irony - I was sitting there listening to it, going "ok, ok, I get it - but what about the music?". Parts of the album sounded good to me, but I just couldn't connect. Good jazz (to me) always has that feeling of genuine-ness, honestly, and integrity. The feeling from the Bad Plus does not seem genuine to me.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Carl Abernathy said...

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6:26 PM  
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