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04/19/14

The Bad Plus
The Rite of Spring
Sony Masterworks

When it premiered in Paris in 1913, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) incited a riot, mostly for its shocking rewriting of music theory but also for its harsh emotion. It makes sense that the Bad Plus would take on the revolutionary work, which in a way is no more audacious a choice for the groundbreaking trio than their deconstruction of Nirvana’s game-changing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The only question was how Ethan Iverson and company would capture the flaring emotion of the orchestral work, composed as a ballet, with piano, bass and drums.

The answer is they don’t attempt to go big. Placing clockwork precision over improvisation—drummer Dave King has never played more elegantly under control—they cast dark, threatening shadows with their hard-hitting, hard-angled attack. Iverson brings the chordal thunder on “The Augurs of Spring,” following an intriguing “Introduction” that boasts vigorous atonal passages and electronic tweaks. Even at rest, the music never releases its grip.

Iverson’s light dancing figures and melodically flowering passages balance the bombast. His classical temperament sometimes suggests Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker) or even Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf) more than Stravinsky, but the Russian roots in this music are not to be denied. This Rite of Spring swings at times (dig the hard shuffle-like phrases on “Sacrificial Dance”) and achieves an unshakable intensity with its minimalistic strokes. The recording, which runs 36 minutes, ends suddenly and hauntingly, pointing you back to the beginning.

Originally published in April 2014
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