Will you take some whiskey with your water? Some sugar in your tea? How about some high-powered stimulant in your jazz trio? The Bad Plus offers the latter, a recharging of the piano-bass-drums trio that combines explosive playing with a playful irreverence. The trio, which includes pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, walks the line between free jazz's vast expanses and the tight melodies of a three-minute pop song. The members of the Bad Plus are the next in the line of Young Jazz Saviors, artists who take form and transmute it into something palpable for the readerships of both Downbeat and Spin. Of its peers, the Bad Plus is the most accessible: The trio practices more restraint than jam-happy organ trio Medeski, Martin & Wood and avoids the mood-swinging gravitas of piano man Brad Mehldau.
2003's These Are the Vistas caught many ears with its combination of jazz cool and off-kilter covers, most notably the band's update of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." This year's Give offers more of the same, mixing solid, bottom-heavy originals and covers of songs by Ornette Coleman and Black Sabbath. And if you can't wait for this summer's Pixies reunion tour, the entropic run through "Velouria" should be enough to make your horn-rims fog up.
While these covers often serve as lightning rods for critics and fans, the originals are just as melodic, forceful and challenging. All three members (yes, even the drummer!) share writing duties -- not merely jamming on a theme, but developing ideas and shaping the structure of a song. On "Cheney Piñata," King's Latin shuffle gives way to Iverson's spider-fingered attack on the keyboard while Anderson's sonorous, resonating upright bass provides a safety net for all the activity. The liner notes give a bit more context to the curious title: "Our lonely VP rendered in papier-mâché and filled with candy and treats instead of oil and defense contracts." Who says jazz can't be funny and political at the same time?