The Bad Plus, “It’s Hard” (Okeh Records/Sony Music Masterworks)
After focusing mostly on original music on their last four albums, The Bad Plus goes back to their roots on “It’s Hard” with an album of distinctly original covers that recast an eclectic mix of rock and pop tunes in a modern jazz framework.
The leaderless trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King first garnered international attention shortly after forming in 2000 by deconstructing songs by Nirvana and ABBA.
Still together, the threesome put their own stamp on tunes by Kraftwerk (“The Robots”), Peter Gabriel (“Games Without Frontiers”), Ornette Coleman (“Broken Shadows”) and fellow Minnesotan Prince (“The Beautiful Ones”), recorded shortly before his death.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” is turned into high-energy free jazz, while Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is given a darkly lyrical interpretation.
On Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” notably covered by Miles Davis’s electric band in the ’80s, Iverson disassembles the melody and rhythm punctuated by King’s sharp drumbeats. Iverson plays around with the tempo on Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” matched by King and Anderson who accelerate and decelerate the shuffling train-like rhythm.
The trio even manages to use shifts in the dynamics to transform Barry Manilow’s treacly “Mandy,” which starts softly as a hauntingly beautiful jazz ballad and then grows in intensity toward a rousing climax.
No matter how radical the reinterpretation, The Bad Plus always shows respect for the source material as they continue to chart a new course for the jazz piano trio.