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Not Quite Jazz, Not Quite Rock

The Bad Plus lets jazz and rock bleed together to create a new whole.
The Bad Plus lets jazz and rock bleed together to create a new whole.

It's hard to decide what to make of The Bad Plus, whose not-quite-jazz, not-quite-rock sound has no pretense of operating at either extreme, but instead plays with the colors in between. While the band made its name playing idiosyncratic, rock-influenced covers of Nirvana and Black Sabbath, translating three-minute pop songs into a jazz context is nothing new. In fact, it's difficult to find any time in jazz's history that wasn't influenced by the popular music of the era: Musicians were inspired by the recognizable melodies as a starting point for their improvisation. David Bowie's "Life on Mars" could be the next addition to the standard jazz songbook in the same way that John Coltrane deconstructed "My Favorite Things."

That said, it's the original compositions on Prog that find The Bad Plus pushing the boundaries of its hybrid sound. The eclectic, slow-burning "Giant" mixes straight-ahead post-bop and bossa nova into mellow, trance-inducing pop. Driven by Reid Anderson's repeating ostinato bassline, Ethan Iverson's beautifully sparse, mathematically articulate piano melodies often erupt with a hard-edged flutter. Meanwhile, the heavy throb of dark harmonic chords draws from both Impressionist Era classical music and McCoy Tyner's piano work with Coltrane's great quartet. David King's fiery drums burst with a chaotic, clanging groove that can both propel the song with rocking precision or dissipate into the free-jazz ether.

Eschewing traditional jazz solos in favor of atmosphere, group improvisation and tension-and-release dynamics, each member works to expand and contract the shape of "Giant." They toy with phrasing, add embellishments to the melody and play with an innate sense of space. No matter how The Bad Plus gets labeled, its sound is distinctly inspired.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Mike Katzif