Thursday, January 15, 2009

latest news from planet jazz

When I learnt that the new album by our favourite (and oft-mentioned) jazz trio The Bad Plus would feature a vocalist, there was much head-scratching 'round Domino towers. Having followed them for a while and having seen the perilous liberties they take in performance, my initial worries were that the presence of a vocalist would tie them too closely to any song structure. Plus, I feared for the sanity and health of the vocalist involved.

Also, The Bad Plus have been in constant danger of painting themselves into a corner as "that jazz band that does 'wacky' interpretations of 'popular' songs" ever since they first appeared - something that's not helped by the inclusion of tracks originally performed by Pink Floyd, Flaming Lips and Wilco.

But as they rightly pointed out in a recent Radio 3 feature, hasn't taking liberties with popular song been part of jazz since the very start? And there are only so many interpretations of 'Stella By Starlight' that anyone needs.

Anyhoo, it turns out that For All I Care is the most completely satisfying set from the band since Give in 2004 (so much so, that it's really tricky pulling off a couple of tracks for this post).

Surprisingly, hearing the band with a vocalist really works. Wendy Lewis' vocals are warm and throaty and she never tries to compete with the band's pyrotechnics by indulging in skwee-bo scat-singing - rather, she is the calm centre that's sometimes missing from their more out-there improvisational workouts, holding it down and underlining the original material, allowing the band to go their own merry way.

Which is just what they do here - watch out for those tricky shifts into 6/8!

The Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis - Lithium (Nirvana)


Particularly love the way they swagger through the shouty chorus and the pregnant pauses at around the 2.40 mark.

It's not all Now That's What I Call a Wacky Jazz Cover, however - half of the set is taken up with some great interpretations of 20th Century Classical pieces. Their versions come out sounding not unlike The Bad Plus at their prettiest ("Flim" from These Are The Vistas, "Giant" from Prog) - excellent stuff.

The Bad Plus - Variations d'Apollon (Stravinsky)

I guess their point is that music is music - don't box me in, friend.

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