The Bad Plus – It’s Hard
(Okeh Records / Sony Music Masterworks 88985 33714 2.
CD Review by Liam Izod)
In 2016, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk – and if there is a jazz group who might lay claim to the legacy of 1976, it is Brooklyn’s The Bad Plus. Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King have been purveying jazz-punk deconstructions of zeitgeisty hits from Bowie to Black Sabbath since their formation in 2000. In 2014, they released a reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, demonstrating their respect for the musical iconoclasts of the past, though not quite provoking the riots that famously broke out at the original Rite’s premiere.
Rather than riot, the appropriate reaction to a Bad Plus covers album is more a sort of post-modern chortle at their irascible rearrangements. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the eleven selections on their latest, It’s Hard. Kraftwerk’s The Robots gets a sparky latin overhaul, which finds the swing amidst the precise pulses of the original. Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time is another triumph, with Iverson extracting some affecting changes, under which Anderson weaves what seems like an endlessly ascending bass line.
There are moments, though, which make you question whether you get the joke. Did the world really need a contemporary jazz cover of an early noughties indie song that wasn’t particularly remarkable the first time round? Are the Bad Plus celebrating these old hits, or sending them up, or both? The final track, Broken Shadows by Ornette Coleman, offers some answers. The trio cover it almost like a ballad in a standards book – and it is the most genuine moment on the album, and their reverence for the avant-jazz great is plain to hear.
So, The Bad Plus are perhaps best understood through the prism of Ornette as well as punk. Here, they continue to find playful new ways to improvise in the jazz idiom, and to transmit challenging music to those who might not often hear it. That can only be commended.