At first glance, this doesn't look like a jazz record, with that big picture of what might be a robot on the frontand three thugs on the back looking like they just stepped out of the garage. But look closer.
The Bad Plus is one of the most unique piano trios you are ever likely to hear. Ethan Iverson uses some very interesting chordal voices on These Are the Vistas. Reid Anderson rarely walks anywhere on the album, but things still swing and groove...and HARD. David King is no stranger to these more esoteric jazz excursions he's the drummer for the Minneapolis based Happy Apple as well. The three of them together make for one potent combination.
The album starts off with a big bang: a song called "Big Eater." It's a vicious four minute assault that seems not to be jazz, but at the same time suggests every bit the future of the music. "Keep the Bugs off Your Glass and The Bears Off Your Ass" is every bit as amusing as the title would imply. The first massive jolt comes at the third track: a rousing, intense, and completely unexpected take on "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (Yes, the Nirvana song.) Stripping down the famous opening guitar riff down to half notes gets things off to a nefarious start, but once the tune kicks in, you know exactly what you're hearing. It's yet another case of jazz extending an olive branch to the pop community. If the reactions of my non-jazz listening friends are any sort of indication, this might be the band to get more forward thinking rock fans listening to the good stuff. We can only hope.
The next bright spot is "1972 Bronze Medalist": killer groove, and a great tune. "Guilty" is a beautiful ballad of sorts, and "Boo-Wah" is reminiscent of Ornette's most outside moments with his first Atlantic quartet. "Flim," a tune by drum-n-bass giant Aphex Twin, is a relatively joyous moment on an otherwise fairly dark record. Blondie's "Heart of Glass" receives a pretty aggressive treatment. It's pretty far out at its most intense moments. Not for those quiet times with the sweety, to be sure. Last is "Silence is the Question." Starting off slowly and almost at a whisper, it uses its eight minutes to great advantage, building to a pretty intense climax.
I've often thought that jazz needed to get away from the Great American Songbook if it was going to survive with Generations X and Y. I think this is proof that it can. And that it can still be a very convincing jazz record. This is their debut on a major (Columbia nonetheless!!), and I can only hope that there will be more to come from this phenomenal group.