It has got to be a challenge being the Bad Plus. You’re not just any jazz piano trio, no sir-eee. You recorded a version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on your first record and got a reputation for taking on cool adaptations. Your drummer was widely criticized for being “too loud”, but you were playing rock clubs anyway, so alienating crusty “jazz critics” was maybe a good thing.
Those familiar with the Bad Plus know that part of the group's aesthetic is to extend the context and reach of jazz as popular music. Earlier recordings have delivered provocative original compositions alongside standards, modern pop songs and jazz tunes. This album-length performance of Igor Stravinsky's iconic Rite of Spring extends their ouevre with a disciplined twist.
We will never stop returning to Stravinsky's savage, gleaming The Rite of Spring, and enterprising (or foolhardy) musicians will never stop reimagining it. Whether it was the Pacific Symphony's 2013 "ReRite", the Metropolis Ensemble's "The Rite: Remixed", Darryl Brenzel's big band jazz version, or Golem's death metal take, new entrants regularly succumb to the impulse to fiddle with Stravinsky's era-shaping masterwork, and now the Bad Plus are stepping up to the plate. The jazz trio won acclaim by twisting hard rock and punk songs into jazz language, a trick riddled with steep hazards: cleverness on one side, and terminal lameness on the other.
The Bad Plus gained notoriety beginning some 14 years ago as a jazz-piano trio that preferred Pixies and Black Sabbath to standards. They’ve also produced a strong book of knotty originals (favorite title: “Cheney Piñata”). Now, they take on Igor Stravinsky and his 1913 world-shaker, “The Rite of Spring,” which they performed at the ICA last February.
The Bad Plus has taken on many different guises over its career, tapping the songs of Aphex Twin, Ornette Coleman and Black Sabbath along with its own to craft a sound rooted in jazz but most consistent with a genre called the Bad Plus. Now, for the ninth studio recording, the trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King is taking on an orchestra. A piano trio tackling Stravinsky's knotty masterpiece "The Rite of Spring" may sound audacious.