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REVIEW: The Bad Plus with Special Guest Joshua Redman

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Friday April 22, 2011

From The Wall Street Journal

The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman: The Blue Note
By: Will Friedwald

Most contemporary jazz groups merely preach to the choir, but the Bad Plus is that rare band that’s managed to get through to the world beyond the jazz audience. Its ingenious tactic is to play acoustic jazz with the rhythmic sensibilities a Rush fan might appreciate, and early on the trio made a specialty of jazz interpretations of recent anthems. Adding tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman to the fray might seem counterproductive in terms of that goal—after all, he strengthens the group’s ties to music that jazz fans like. Yet even the grungiest rocker couldn’t deny that the combination is remarkable. It may be the jazz snob in me, but as much as I’ve enjoyed the Bad Plus up to now, this is the first time that I find myself describing its music as beautiful.

Mr. Redman joining Bad Plus puts me in mind of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy steps out of the house and all of a sudden everything is in Technicolor. It’s the same movie, but now the whole shebang is much more vivid and vibrant. Compared with what Mr. Redman, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King played during the late set on Tuesday night, everything the trio has done thus far sounds almost like mere monochrome by comparison.

Of course, the Bad Plus still sounds like the Bad Plus. As always, there’s the exceptional playing of Mr. King: Most jazz lovers feel about drumming the way the Tea Party feels about government: less is better. Our highest praise is that a drummer plays subtly, pushing the band without making a lot of noise. Yet Mr. King’s in-your-face, all-over-the-place drumming is an integral part of the BP’s sound—loud as it is, his playing is about serving the group rather than himself. Percussion should derive from the consent of the governed rather than the threat of force.

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