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The Bad Plus and Good For Cows

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The Bad Plus
Give
Sony-Columbia
2004

The Bad Plus, jazz's ground breaking trio, have followed up their acclaimed release These Are the Vistas with Give , a disc that reaffirms the band's intentions to do nothing conventional, and to shift the music's landscape. The format of the disc is similar: predominantly originals mixed with covers, featuring the band's penchant for Mingus-esque titling and already trademark rhythmic construction and arrangements, and double-edged satire.

The opener, "1979 Semi-Finalist," has the tempo of a boxer feeling out an opponent in the first round. Reid Anderson's fiercely melodic bass work is striking, like he's accompanying in the forefront. Pianist Ethan Iverson shows his classical influences, going on measured but sparkling runs while drummer David King deftly shadows him by tickling the rims. The Latin flavored "Cheney Piñata" is a mischievous waltz and exemplifies the trio's use of "ensemble soloing." Iverson and Anderson repeat the theme while King thunders above them with a military march. Their cover of Ornette Coleman's "Street Woman" features a dramatic, funky duet between Anderson and Reid and a great interior dialogue by Iverson. The theme is used as a point of departure for their musical vignettes. "And Here We Test Our Powers of Observation" features an almost melancholy melody line by Iverson and more driving drum work by King.

"Frog and Toad" is another playfully conceived song with yet another apparent tonal fight or lack of meshing, the title perhaps indicative of the way the chords and notes are similar, yet different. Their cover of the Pixies' "Velouria" is another exquisite example of how this group takes songs out of a commonplace context. With King's pulsating rapid heartbeat in the background, Iverson plays a delicate melodic theme. The sound rises until the song finally bursts out of its chrysalis and comes out as a colorful butterfly and ends with a symphonic flourish. King's "Layin' A Strip For the Higher-Self State Line" is a wonderful honky tonk, bluegrass, country western trucker-themed romp with jazz highlights around the edges.

"Do Your Sums-Die Like A Dog-Play For Home" is an energetic, three-part suite with rock and classical influences. "Neptune (The Planet)" is a brooding ballad that features reverb effects. The final cut, "Iron Man," opens with Iverson playing two pianos simultaneously. These days a jazz band covering Black Sabbath isn't surprising. Back in the day "Stella By Starlight" was considered a jazz standard; now "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is slowly approaching that status. The Bad Plus would be just as at home at CBGB's as they would at the Vanguard. They leave no musical genre unchallenged, effectively placing musical genres side by side to show how they are connected, and to illuminate their possibilities.

Good for Cows
Less than or Equal to
Free Porcupine Society
2004

Good For Cows is a San Francisco-based duo comprised of bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Ches Smith. Their latest disc, Less than or Equal to , is a series of ten inventive and challenging improvisations.

There's a brief moment of searching on the opener, "A Good Idea," as the duo tries to locate some common ground; once it's established, though, they engage in a funky edgy dialogue. "Tragedy And Farce" has Hoff playing an emotional arco with Smith contributing both subtle brushing and Tommy gun stick work. "Exercise 05" begins with Hoff's slow plucking; Smith stalks him, snatches up the tempo, and impels Hoff to follow him. After a tentative dance, they finally come to an agreement.

"Death Affirming" starts off as a dirge, with Hoff's melancholy bowing punctuated by Smith's brush work. Then the tempo picks up, the rhythm shifts, and the dirge moves into a standard jazz variation on the established theme. Hoff lays down the foundation of the theme on "Solve the Problem" with more strong pizzicato. Smith ups the ante by switching the tempo behind him and Hoff raises him by expanding the parameters without straying too far from what he's laid down. Hoff deftly manipulates his arco on "Medication," producing a doubling effect that makes it sound like he's accompanying himself. The title cut and "$13" feature intense interplay between Hoff's charged plucking and Smith's thunderous, frenetic drumming, and these are the best moments on the disc. "Slow," the finale, features outer fringe percussive effects by Smith, with he and Hoff settling into a measured groove until the end.

Visit Columbia Records and Free Porcupine Society on the web.


Give

Tracks: 1.1979 Semi-Finalist; 2. Cheney Piñata; 3. Street Woman; 4. And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation; 5. Frog And Toad; 6. Velouria; 7. Layin' A Strip For the Higher-Self State Line; 8. Do Your Sums-die Like a Dog -Play For Home; 9. Dirty blonde; 10. Neptune (The Planet); 11. Iron Man.

Personnel: Ethan Iverson: piano; Reid Anderson: bass; David King: drums.


Less than or Equal to

Personnel: Devin Hoff: bass; Ches Smith: drums.


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