The Good and the Bad Plus

Now we’ve gone and done it: The Bad Plus—young white guys only a few albums into their career, propelled by a drummer who has listened to Keith Moon more than he’s mooned over Max Roach—is on the cover

Tad Hendrickson catches up with the Bad Plus after its year of head-turning success, criticism and, now, expectations for its new album, Give. Meanwhile, Bill Milkowski knocks the Bad Plus right on the chin, and John Murph, while a fan of the band, can’t help but shake the feeling that the trio has garnered at least some of its acclaim due to skin color.

In his essay, Milkowski excoriates drummer David King and says the Bad Plus isn’t for himself, Ira Gitler or Nat Hentoff—people who have spent plenty of time with old Blue Note, Verve and Savoy records. As someone who has spent plenty of time with records from those labels—as well as ska from Studio One, electronica from Warp, punk rock from SST and hip-hop from Def Jam—I wholeheartedly disagree.

The Bad Plus is for people whose musical tastes can’t be defined by one genre, one style, one way of playing.

I’ve heard that because the Bad Plus sometimes caters to rock tastes, the band primarily appeals to white editors, writers and listeners—such as myself—which is why the trio has received such good press in mainstream publications. I think it’s more accurate to say the Bad Plus caters to modern tastes—which has nothing to do with one’s skin color. Hip-hop, for instance, sells more to white kids even though the majority of the artists are black.

The two black guys I went to see the Bad Plus with last year got into the band because of drummer King, whose work I also enjoy. Does that make us lesser listeners, people not smart enough to swing? Or is that the three of us reacted to rhythms that spoke to our general age range (25 to 35) as much as ride-cymbal swing spoke to another generation? (I’d also venture to say the Bad Plus, in its short time together, has done as much to catch the ears of young listeners as any of the jazz institutions that Hentoff promotes in his column this month.)

Go ahead and play the can’t-swing card, the they’re-too-young card, the they’re-too-rock card, the hype card, the race card—play cards until you’ve got a full deck of reasons why the Bad Plus is pseudo-jazz and the product of deft marketing.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will enjoy the music.

Originally published in April 2004

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