The Bad Plus,One Bad McBride and Bad Taste

I recently received a CD from a solid mainstream jazz label with a note from the company’s president. The CD was by a very good new alto saxophonist who plays in a vintage swinging style that’s somewhere between Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean.

In his letter, the label’s chief said, “In a day and age when the Bad Plus is playing at the Village Vanguard, kids like this need encouragement.”

Oh, no! The gates have fallen and the bandits are storming the castle!

Despite concerns about the hallowed grounds of the Vanguard falling to the heretics, the status quo in jazz is music that sounds like it was made between the 1940s and the 1960s, and it will be for some time to come—like it or not.

I wonder why the Bad Plus, a melodically and harmonically rich all-acoustic group, threaten the status quo in jazz? Truthfully, I don’t know; the Bad Plus’ major-label debut, These Are the Vistas, sounds like great jazz to me. Their improvisations crush. They turn modern popular songs into first-class jazz excursions. And they swing like mad. Sure, it’s not always in 4/4, and the drummer doesn’t sit on his ride cymbal, and the bass player doesn’t continually walk to support the piano player’s solos. But the Bad Plus move as a well-oiled unit because they play as a band, not as a soloist fronting a group.

While his music is completely different from the Bad Plus’, Christian McBride takes a similarly integratedgroup approach on his new CD, Vertical Vision. As a bassist-leader, he somewhat has to, since the music might fall apart if McBride always jumped to the fore rather than holding down the groove. I’m sure the protectors of traditional jazz values wouldn’t care for Vertical Vision, either, since it touches on fusion as much as it does hard bop. McBride’s response to those defenders of the status quo would probably begin with a chuckle, followed by a spin of his new CD’s opening track, “Circa 1990,” a tongue-in-cheek tune for those who wish the “young lions” phenomenon was still in full swing—ahem.

The funny part is that I have a feeling that McBride and the Bad Plus would enjoy the alto saxophonist’s CD that this label boss was promoting. They obviously have catholic tastes, and while they might not want to play in the style that the alto player does, intellectually they can recognize good jazz and accomplished playing when they hear it— no matter the era or subgenre.

Originally published in April 2003

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