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The Bad Plus: Activate Infinity (Edition)/ Reid Anderson/Dave King/Craig Taborn: Golden Valley Is Now (Intakt)

A review of two albums featuring Reid Anderson and Dave King

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The Bad Plus, Activate Infinity
The cover of Activate Infinity by The Bad Plus

Drummer Dave King and bassist Reid Anderson have had an uproarious last 24 months. They lost their partner of 17 years in the Bad Plus, pianist Ethan Iverson, found a new Bad keyboardist/pal (the joyously diabolical Orrin Evans), and recorded two new albums, including this month’s Activate Infinity. At the same time, Anderson and King renewed their childhood friendship with fellow Minneapolis native and charmed free keyboardist Craig Taborn for a live-without-sequencers tribute to their former Golden Valley stomping grounds.

Call it a tale of one rhythm section, or new chapters in a life-book dedicated to progressive music-making: These recordings present Anderson and King in a rainbow of surprisingly subtle colors and shadings.

Hewing closer to cool postbop tradition than most of the Bad Plus’ previous efforts (including their first album with Evans, the math-rocking Never Stop II), the all-original Activate Infinity finds Evans mashing his own sinister soulfulness into swift Monk-like runs (“Avail”), playful Guaraldi-isms (“Thrift Store Jewelry”) and pastoral Bruce Hornsby-ish themes (“The Red Door”) without losing sight of his unique tone. King, meanwhile, is an absolute monster. Higher in the mix than the fluid Anderson, he rumbles and rumbas with giddy complexity on “Avail,” crafts a wash of crashing cymbals, rolling toms, and quickly flitting snares on “Dovetail Nicely,” and elegantly sand-dances below Evans’ heady modal cocktail on “Love Is the Answer.”

Though it doesn’t lack for quirk, there’s a breezy symmetry and easygoing melodicism to TBP’s new album that’s more handsome than it is histrionic.

Reid Anderson/Dave King/Craig Taborn, Golden Valley Is Now
The cover of Golden Valley Is Now by Reid Anderson/Dave King/Craig Taborn

Golden Valley Is Now is a different workout for Anderson and King, one where the twosome split songwriting credits and toy with electronic textures or, in Taborn’s case, silvery synth sounds. This time Anderson is loud in the bass bin-rattling mix, especially on his short, sharp, self-penned “City Diamond,” a thumping ’80s New Wave track led by Taborn’s shiny, hypnotic keyboard lines, and his eerily elongated “Song One.” King’s “Sparklers and Snakes” could pass for bell-bonging synth-pop, if it weren’t for that deliciously cosmopolitan Bacharach-y bridge. This theatricality carries into the manic propulsion of “High Waist Drifter” with its rapid-fire cymbal attack, party-ball handclapping, and Taborn’s cheesy garage-band organ.

That same tawdry keyboard sound, however, works against Taborn & Coat times, making tracks such as “Polar Heroes” sound thin and unfinished, and Golden Valley merely good rather than great.

Preview, buy or download Activate Infinity on Amazon!

Preview, buy or download Golden Valley Is Now on Amazon!

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