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The Bad Plus: Inevitable Western

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This has been a productive year for the Bad Plus. After releasing nothing as a unit in 2013, the “avant-garde populists” have brought out two albums in 2014, their Inevitable Western arriving just five months after their ambitious trio arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

The new disc eschews covers, both the highbrow variety and the more plebeian material that the group is renowned (and occasionally reviled) for reworking. Instead, the band members contribute three original compositions apiece. Much of it has a classical feel, the bluesier side of jazz mostly ignored but its improvisational interplay emphasized. Reid Anderson’s “I Hear You” opens the album slow and pretty, his bass playing a haunting line, Ethan Iverson’s piano soft and contemplative and Dave King’s drumming quiet and controlled. Anderson’s “You Will Lose All Fear” mixes classical and free-jazz feels, opening with thunderous piano and drums before fading to lyrical piano and bass at the end. His “Do It Again” is more uptempo and melodic throughout.

King’s “Gold Prisms Incorporated” and “Epistolary Echoes” have more rock energy to them than the others: The former also incorporates some cascading piano from Iverson; the latter is a serious group improvisation bookended by a whimsically catchy melody. His “Adopted Highway” (also the title of his recent Dave King Trucking Company release) is more meditative and quirky, grabbing you with Iverson’s bewitching piano line at the end. Iverson’s “Self Serve” is a smorgasbord of classical, jazz and rock vibes, and his “Mr. Now” is built largely on tricky piano figures and rocking drumming. And the pianist’s title track concludes the album with Anderson playing a lovely intro to a piece that lopes along evocatively. King’s cymbals conjure the jingling of spurs, his sticks the clop-clopping of hooves.

Originally Published