The Bad Plus: Give

The Bad Plus couldn't help but make headlines with last year's These Are The Vistas, a solid jazz album that featured conspicuous covers of songs by Nirvana, Blondie, and Aphex Twin. Jazz versions of pop songs are nothing new, of course, but the Midwestern trio's readings of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Heart Of Glass," and "Flim" weren't exactly ordinary. Neither are the covers on Give, which matches eight original compositions to three more or less familiar oldies: Ornette Coleman's "Street Woman," Pixies' "Velouria," and Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." All three are interesting treatments of songs pushed into and out of their respective orbits, but even more intriguing is how fresh The Bad Plus makes jazz sound on its terms. Tight and shifty enough to cast the covers as distractions, originals like "1979 Semi-Finalist" trade on economical songwriting rooted somewhere between jazz and rock. Tinkling piano and contemplative drums signal the former, but lean, slithery bass lines cast hooks the way a pop song would. On "And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation," the three parts hover around each other before going on a propulsive tear, all furrow-browed piano drive, heat-seeking bass, and drums rushing through a thick backbeat. Dry, cavernous production by studio pro Tchad Blake lends Give some of its uniqueness, but more crucial is The Bad Plus' way of thinking through jazz compositions with a pop mind. The "Velouria" cover mulls over its mood and melody at the start, but quickly shifts into a muscle-bound jaunt that sounds enamored of both the song and Pixies as a whole. It's exploratory in the jazz mold, but focused on an endpoint that's less constrained by past jazz. The Bad Plus couldn't be called anything other than a jazz band, but Give makes it easy to try.

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