All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Extended Analysis

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

933

The Bad Plus: The Bad Plus / Wendy Lewis: For All I Care

By

Sign in to view read count
"(The singer) had to be somebody who was capable and even enthusiastic about a musical underpinning that wasn't always going to be cooperating with them" —Reid Anderson, bassist
The Bad Plus / Wendy Lewis
For All I Care
Heads Up International
2009

If you are The Bad Plus, and you've spent your acclaimed and wacky career dismantling pop and jazz tunes down to their barely recognizable components—spreading those components around like bike pieces on a garage floor and building them back together into a state that bears only occasional resemblances to its source material—it is not the easiest thing in the world to advertise for helpers.



But when the band found itself looking to employ a singer for the first time, the hiring process was surprisingly speedy. "We felt like it was time for something different, (but) we didn't want to get a jazz singer," says bassist Reid Anderson. "We wanted someone with a direct approach, because that's really what we do as well."



To those familiar with The Bad Plus' work, this might come as a bit of shock. But Anderson has proof—and a history lesson. One of the precedents for the project, he says, was saxophonist John Coltrane's work with vocalist Johnny Hartman. "That was a very established band, with an established sound, that went into the studio with Hartman to record some songs. But the result is so powerful. It's not like a singer with a band, it's this collective music-making thing."



With For All I Care, The Bad Plus opted to keep things as simple as possible within the new set of sonic guidelines. "Amid all the other things going on, we're always very aware of the melody. So we wanted someone who wasn't as focused on changing the melody as doing it in a direct but personal way, but who also could deal with shifting time signatures and...unpleasant surprises. It had to be somebody who was capable and even enthusiastic about a musical underpinning that wasn't always going to be co-operating with them."

The answer came in Minneapolis vocalist Wendy Lewis, who gets front cover billing and to whom is left the difficult task of melding organically with one of the weirdest, hardest-to-describe, Bee Gees'-covering hipster crossover jazz trios currently working. Anderson says, perhaps semi-seriously, that he gets just as excited talking about the Carpenters as he does about Charles Mingus.

Lewis, Anderson continues, was a longtime associate of The Bad Plus' drummer David King. "I had remembered a demo Dave had made (with Lewis) 10 years ago. I was just so struck by the vocals, the sound of her voice." And when it came time to add a singer to The Bad Plus' bizarro-world mix, the fit was perfect. She was the only person the band approached to do this record.



And that record is a sticky, melancholy and effective merging of vocals to The Bad Plus' hall-of-mirrors jazz. Longtime admirers should be pleased by the crossover aspect, and Lewis' voice lends a new level of accessibility to some of the tracks—like the swelling, powerful and surprisingly straightforward take on the Flaming Lips' "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," the crushing "Comfortably Numb" and a syrupy take on Nirvana's "Lithium."



The Bad Plus, of course, has drunk from the Nirvana well before, on perhaps the band's most recognizable and adventurous cover to date: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," included on their breakthrough album "These Are The Vistas (Columbia, 2003). "Lithium" differs from its flanneled predecessor in several crucial areas: it seethes rather than roars, there's no crashing cathartic middle, and though the song retains the original's mostly cloudy forecast, it kind of throws the time signature into a lottery-ball machine (though the band swears the version adheres to an unorthodox but consistent signature). It works. It's like Weird Al doing Star Wars songs—it's been done, sure, but things can work twice.



In fact, the whole album works, in its extremely singular way. If you find yourself in need of explaining the group's jagged appeal, tell someone the new record goes from the Bee Gees to Heart to a composition by tricky classical composer Milton Babbitt ("Semi-Simple Variations"). Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," against all odds and many of nature's current physics laws, gets bleaker, isolated, more shut-down than even the original, even while Lewis swirls up an unusually lovely harmony vocal. It's one of the few points on the record where The Bad Plus + 1 stay in the same room as the playbook—at least until pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer King start sweeping the rug out from underneath Lewis' feet, first in a tricky manner, then in such a way that it sounds like the theatre is falling to pieces around them, like that Bugs Bunny cartoon with the conductor.



The Wilco ballad, "Radio Cure," gets a similar peeled-to-the-bone reading, with Lewis and Anderson opening things under a bare lightbulb: "There is something wrong with me." Elsewhere, the damp, lowlit version of "How Deep Is Your Love" will scare the pants off of most Bee Gees fans. "Barracuda," meanwhile, could be played on Guitar Hero. "It's just the energy of a great rock tune," Anderson says of the song. "And that's the only song where the original has a female vocalist. We thought, 'This is perfect for what Wendy can do.'"



But for all The Bad Plus' signature oddness—the record is all cover versions—the album's most experimental moment might be its most accessible: a late-show cover of the Flaming Lips' "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate." This may be one of only a few cases in which The Bad Plus' version of a pop song is a little bit less nuts than the original. Before it's out, the track, Lewis' best vocal performance on the disc, works up a sudsy purple lather that you can easily imagine being played on radio. At the very least it will appeal to the lively blog world surrounding the Lips.

But, as always, The Bad Plus find a way to distill random-sounding source material into a single, whole sound. "This had to be a Bad Plus record—it's the sound of four people making music together, not the sound of a singer with a backup band," says Anderson. "So we had to get somebody who'd be willing to come into our world—and able to, because the kinds of things we're throwing at Wendy aren't the kinds of things that just anyone can deal with. That's the whole aesthetic of The Bad Plus: it's group music. This had to continue in that tradition."




Tracks: Lithium; Comfortably Numb; Fem (Etude No. 8); Radio Cure; Long Distance Runaround; Semi-Simple Variations; How Deep Is Your Love; Barracuda; Lock, Stock And Teardrops; Variation D'Apollon; Feeling Yourself Disintegrate; Semi-Simple Variations (Alternate Version).

Personnel: Reid Anderson: bass, vocals; Ethan Iversion: piano, bells; David King: drums, vocals; Wendy Lewis: vocals.


Title: The Bad Plus / Wendy Lewis: For All I Care | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Heads Up International

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Wolf Out

Wolf Out

The Bad Plus
Made Possible

CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Extended Analysis
Live Reviews
Read more articles
Never Stop II

Never Stop II

Legbreaker Records
2018

buy
It's Hard

It's Hard

Okeh
2017

buy
The Bad Plus Joshua Redman

The Bad Plus Joshua...

Nonesuch Records
2015

buy
The Bad Plus: The Rite Of Spring

The Bad Plus: The...

Sony Masterworks
2014

buy
The Rite of Spring

The Rite of Spring

Sony Masterworks
2014

buy
Never Stop

Never Stop

E1 Music
2012

buy

Related Articles

Read Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Extended Analysis
Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Love, Gloom, Cash, Love Extended Analysis
Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Motel Shot: Expanded Edition Extended Analysis
Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead Motion Picture Soundtrack Extended Analysis
Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead...
by Doug Collette
Published: July 14, 2017
Read Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition Extended Analysis
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition Extended Analysis
Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love" Extended Analysis Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "Motel Shot: Expanded Edition" Extended Analysis Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017
Read "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition" Extended Analysis Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read "Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial" Extended Analysis Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 29, 2017
Read "Grateful Dead: Cornell '77" Extended Analysis Grateful Dead: Cornell '77
by Doug Collette
Published: May 6, 2017