Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The Bad Plus return to their interpretive roots on It's Hard. First album of covers by the leaderless trio in 10 years. Featuring iconic covers of songs made famous by Prince, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Peter Gabriel, TV On The Radio, Kraftwerk, Ornette Coleman and more. The Bad Plus will be touring throughout the U.S. this summer and fall.
The Bad Plus' eleventh studio recording, It's Hard sees the leaderless trio - bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King - returning to the distinctive deconstruction of pop forms that first drew them international attention almost two decades ago. Recorded this past April at NYC's Brooklyn Recording with longtime engineer Pete Rende (Joshua Redman, Bill McHenry), the album spans both era and inspiration as The Bad Plus offer new perspectives on classic songs from the 1970s to the 2010s. While the four most recent Bad Plus albums have focused on predominantly original material, It's Hard showcases the trio's inimitable gift for intrepid and audacious interpretation. A lyrical take on Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" stands alongside the motorik futurism of Kraftwerk's "The Robots" and the post-millennial indie creativity of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" and TV On The Radio's "Staring At The Sun," altering pop, prog rock, country, psychedelia, and more via an unmatched gift for wit, harmonic innovation and rhythmic brilliance. Their expressive reading of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" -- coincidentally recorded a month before the legend's untimely death - is a potent tribute to a figure that loomed large in the lives of these Minnesotan musicians. The Bad Plus has spent nearly two decades expanding the parameters of what is expected of a piano-bass-drums trio. The genre-smashing band has crafted a repertoire of innovative original music, along with a daring series of iconoclastic covers spanning such diverse artists as Nirvana and Neil Young, Aphex Twin and Ornette Coleman. No matter the material, The Bad Plus continue to mine the very same aesthetic principles that inspired their inception, exploring myriad musical forms through the unparalleled interpretive power of jazz.
Personnel: Ethan Iverson (piano); Reid Anderson (double bass); David King (drums).
Recording information: Brooklyn Recording, Brooklyn, NY (04/2016).
Photographers: Darryl Pitt; David King .
Arranger: The Bad Plus.
For longtime fans of genre-bending jazz piano trio the Bad Plus, 2016's It's Hard will feel pleasantly familiar. Once again showcasing the talents of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King, It's Hard finds the Bad Plus reworking a set of well-curated pop covers. In that sense, the album fits nicely next to the group's previous covers albums, all of which helped build their reputation as a maverick, forward-thinking outfit unafraid to recontextualize both modern pop songs and traditional acoustic jazz. Particularly effective here is the trio's languid, impressionistic take on Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over." Played as a slow, yearning ballad, it brings to mind Keith Jarrett's fractured, atmospheric flow. Elsewhere, they imbue Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" with Thelonious Monk-like dissonance, and dive headlong into Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps," transforming the indie rock anthem into a tumbling avant-garde, Broadway musical-esque theme. The one shift this time out is the inclusion of two jazz cover songs in saxophonist Bill McHenry's "Alfombra Magica" and the late Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows." While those two choices sound of a piece with the rest of the performances on It's Hard, they stand out for their specific, avant-garde jazz origins and work in contrast to the rest of the more contemporary pop choices. It's as if the Bad Plus are demonstrating their longstanding belief that all good music can be interpreted in a jazz style, whether it's Prince's "The Beautiful Ones," Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," or Kraftwerk's "The Robots," all of which are elegantly tackled here. Ultimately with It's Hard, the Bad Plus continue to make the process of transforming modern pop songs into jazz standards sound both deceptively easy and endlessly enjoyable. ~ Matt Collar