Album Review: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman by The Bad Plus
Excellent, Based on 6 Critics
PopMatters - 80 Based on rating 8/10
There’s been so much revolution among jazz piano trios in recent years, and accounts of the trend inevitably point to the Bad Plus: Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass), and Dave King (drums). The band has a wide range and can “swing” in a traditional way when it so chooses, but the Bad Plus have mainly produced a series of highly structured compositions and strategies for instrumental drama and improvisation, and they have been catchy and cool enough to bring the band significant mainstream success. It’s only with the release of The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, the band’s first recording with another major player, that I realized that the Bad Plus might be understood as the Dave Brubeck Quartet of our era.
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 ….
Can a star jazz improviser used to unimpeded spaces and a composers’ trio who have been wriggling in and out of confined ones for 15 years make music together? That’s the challenge that saxophonist Joshua Redman and The Bad Plus set each other at New York’s Blue Note club in 2011, and with this studio album of originals, and the answer was a big affirmative. Redman plays with imagination and empathy – in delicately hooty upper tones and darker ruminations over the piano hook and periodically sly rhythm lurch of bassist Reid Anderson’s As This Moment Slips Away, or negotiating Anderson’s anthemic standout song, Dirty Blonde. But Redman’s swing on his own Friend or Foe, his free-jazz blasting on pianist Ethan Iverson’s strutting Country Seat, and his ballad dialogue with Iverson on Anderson’s Lack the Faith But Not the Wine show how brightly his jazz flame burns.
A superstar jazz matchup, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman features maverick trio the Bad Plus joined by acclaimed jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman. Recorded after the group's weeklong stint at New York's Blue Note jazz club in 2012, the album is an organic collaboration between Redman and Bad Plus members pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King. Largely known for their genre-bending compositional take on jazz, here the Bad Plus take a more improvisational, open-ended approach to group interplay.
Having covered Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” and, most recently, Ornette Coleman’s epochal “Science Fiction,” piano trio the Bad Plus returns to its own intricate explorations of song form and improvisation. (One of its albums is called “Prog,” after all.) It’s aided this time by saxophonist Joshua Redman. The knotty, gleaming structures often have hooky pop appeal (bassist Reid Anderson’s “Dirty Blonde,”), and the band can deliver an affecting ballad with brushes (“Lack the Faith But Not the Wine,” with lovely contrasting themes played by Redman and pianist Ethan Iverson).
The Bad Plus has been a steady-working band for 15 years, and at no point during that time has it sounded incomplete. An acoustic trio with a collectivist heart — made up of Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and David King on drums — it holds fast to the idea of a group identity, essential and inviolable, no substitutions allowed. Still, there have been a few allowances for guests, like the guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bill Frisell.