I’ve been listening to this album (this time) for 21 minutes. It is by no means halfway through. I am wrung out. I am emotionally spent. I have been dragged from musical pillar to emotional post and all by a jazz trio augmented by an (albeit exceptional saxophonist). Is something wrong with me? Quite possibly, but I’m not sure that that’s relevant. Whether or not jazz is your thing, this is not an album to allow to pass you by. You need to hear this. You really do. It might even change your life.
The Bad Plus, as a jazz trio, have been around for nigh on 20 years. The glorious fusion of the herculean talents of pianist Ethan Iversen, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King, have ever shown themselves to be clever. Whether it was covering ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ along with a host of tracks by popular beat combos in their earlier days, or more recently primarily their own material, a listener to a record by The Bad Plus has never been in doubt that these guys have total mastery over their instruments and a synergy bordering on illegality as a band. My only live experience of them to date, in a small hall in Nottingham on a midweek evening, was a transfixing, transcendent event.
However, in adding the saxophone of Joshua Redman and forming a new act The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (see what they did there?), something even better has become possible. From the moment opener ‘As This Moment Slips Away’…slips into view you know you’re in for something special. This track is hard to pin down. Time signatures are chopped and changed. Sometimes it is the piano which drives things along chordally. At others, Redman’s saxophone, with a repeated and then augmented melodic figure steals the show. Underneath it all the rhythm section of Reid and King are completely locked in, and yet fully able to express themselves, entirely for the benefit of the song. Four masters in action.
The more driving ‘Country Seat’ shows another, more playful side to the band. Could this song even, whisper it, be described as fun? I think so. It certainly sounds as if Dave King, especially, is enjoying himself here. ‘Dirty Blonde’ is a re-envisioning of an old The Bad Plus song. The addition of saxophone, as it does to the trio throughout the piece, however brings it an added vitality which you didn’t even realise The Bad Plus needed. I’m not sure they did. I’m not sure it’s fair on other acts that combos like this exist.
As the album’s sublime second half progresses, we’re treated to a sublime drum solo in ‘Faith Through Error’ and a Radiohead-esque piano figure in ‘Lack the Faith But Not the Wine’. This is a band that seems to have all the answers, all the bases covered. And yet, through it all, at their heart, they are a free-form jazz explosion. Even as these pieces are tightly composed, improvisation, solos, a loss of control, are never far away. This can only be a good thing. The band continue their live travels this summer, notably playing Love Supreme in July. Take a risk. Check them out. I dare you.
8Haydon Spenceley's Score