A turbulent foray into experimental terrain recorded live at the Blue Note in Tokyo, bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King, who together make up the The Bad Plus, explore a plethora of styles on their third Columbia release Blunt Object: Live In Tokyo. It is most certainly their most inventive, risk-taking session to date; a logical outgrowth of their rock and shock reputation.
Can you believe its been over two years now that the Bad Plus broke out with their hit record These Are the Vistas? And in that time, journalists and fans alike have struggled to pigeonhole their sound to no avail. Well, you can expect no help from Blunt Object. That's for sure.
It's clear that the Bad Plus digs experimentation. Whether its punk, pop, grunge, garage, or jazz standards, the formula to success for this band is a philosophy that music is universal and applying the standard jazz trio to other categories is just as valid as your typical two guitars, bass and drums. Like Vistas and Give, the Bad Plus' third album is not for the faint-hearted.
Another collection of originals and well-known tunes, Blunt Object has stuff previously released on Vistas but the trio breathes new life into these tunes making for a satisfying sonic experience. And honestly, how can the Bad Plus keep things any more interesting than giving us their take on everything from Queen to Aphex Twin, to Rodgers & Hart and Blondie.
Starting things off light and spacy, all of a sudden you find yourself humming a familiar tune. That's right. It's Freddie Mercury's "We Are The Champions" laid out off-kilter in a slow, deliberate fashion. When it reaches the end of the form they head into semi-free improv, eventually coming back to the theme with an inspired restatement of the theme. An up-tempo romp entitled "And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation follows with heavy interplay among all three members, most notably from King whose energy really makes the tune what it is. Iverson's "Guilty may be an apology for leading the listener down a strange path with much sound and fury, signifying nothing. What starts out a meandering solo piano flight builds into dawdling honky-tonk blues and before you know it you're back to the land of the free.
Blondie's "Heart of Glass, another variations on a theme, is rather boring, while "Flim, a plaintive ballad by Richard David James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin) is a done as a beautiful ballad (both were featured on the Vistas). The most intense and frenzied tune is paradoxically entitled "Silence is the Question, which slowly builds up to a dizzying climax as the trio blares with great intensity and purpose. And don't let that old familiar warhorse of a tune, "My Funny Valentine" fool you. If you're looking for straight-ahead, don't expect to find it here. The Bad Plus minimalist form which opens on the bridge features an achingly annoying vocal serving only to make the album that much more hip for its eschewal of traditional recantations of tunes we all know..
What is most shocking, is that Columbia has given the Bad Plus virtually complete artistic freedom to do this project their way. Sure, there's probably some pressure to record songs people know if only for their crossover potential, but the way such familiar tunes and the originals are being executed by the Bad Plus is very unique. From this execution It is clear that Anderson, Iverson, and King have a deep appreciation for the developments in jazz since the end of bebop; primarily very liberal modifications of time signatures, intense interaction, and a certain disregard for conventional harmonies.
Blunt Object on the whole is an exciting album for modern jazz fans (especially those who also dig other stlyes). But it will most certainly be uninviting for many uninitiated in freer forms of music. It will shock some in its artistic self-indulgence and frequent harmonic impenetrability. But if you dig Ornette Coleman, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon, or virtually anything recently on Pi or Thirsty Ear, Blunt Object is right up your alley.
Personnel: Reid Anderson: bass, Ethan Iverson: piano, David King: drums.