Rock Roundup

Jazz That Entertains. Honest.

The Bad Plus, playing at the Jazz Estate, mixes jazz with rock, covering songs by Nirvana and Pink Floyd

By - Dec 15th, 2014 02:07 pm
The Bad Plus. Photo from facebook.

The Bad Plus. Photo from facebook.

Top Show: The Bad Plus at Jazz Estate Friday, December 19 and Saturday, December 20


As jazz critics from Nat Hentoff and Lester Bangs to Greg Tate and Stanley Crouch have pointed out, jazz began as good-time music. Some critics, in uncharitable moments, have said it should have stayed good-time music, never to expand toward bebop and free jazz and never to beg for mainstream attention through fusion and “lite” phases.

Compared to Hentoff et al., I am a child scribbling with crayons, but that also gives me a chance to color outside the lines and suggest, with childlike simplicity, that jazz can be accessible and experimental, or progressive, at the same time.

Ergo, The Bad Plus.

Based in Minneapolis, this trio—pianist Ethan Iverson (originally from Wisconsin), bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King—has made listeners wonder if it’s playing jazz with a rock and pop sensibility or playing rock and pop with the swing and technical prowess of jazz.

The Bad Plus has always carried on as if ignoring the “which side do you come from?” question: 2003’s These Are the Vistas recruited producer Tchad Blake despite his having no previous jazz experience, while 2009’s For All I Care added vocals to covers of songs by Pink Floyd, Nirvana, and Roger Miller.

In 2014, the trio has issued two albums: Inevitable Western, with all-original compositions from each member, and The Rite of Spring, a rigorous reconfiguration of Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral ballet. Taken together, the records show how formally sharp the band can be and how informally it regards its accomplishments.

Playing live in a small venue, The Bad Plus will probably loosen its collective tie without losing its stylish sense of adventure. Just because a journey can be fraught with the unexpected doesn’t mean it can’t be a good time as well.


Tuesday, December 16: “Big Snow Show 9” with Fall Out Boy and Walk the Moon at Rave

Although Fall Out Boy is a well-established emo-rock band with albums extending back 12 years, and although its most recent LP, 2013’s Save Rock and Roll, topped what passes for sales charts in the digital age, it might not be the biggest draw at the latest Big Snow Show.

The biggest draw might be Walk the Moon, a Cincinnati quartet slotted into heavy rotation from the local Top 40 station to YouTube thanks to “Shut Up and Dance,” a wonderfully and stupidly catchy pop single that cribs an opening from Joshua Tree-era U2 and covers most other 1980s-retro bases. The rest of the band’s second album, this year’s Talking Is Hard, is nearly as catchy.


Wednesday, December 17: KISSmas Bash with Wiz Khalifa and Meghan Trainor at Rave

Like the aforementioned Big Snow Show, this year’s KISSmas Bash has a ringer in the opening slot. Again, this is not to denigrate the headliner, Wiz Khalifa, a highly stoned Pittsburgh rapper whose solid 2014 disc Blacc Hollywood mixes paranoia and pop (the latter courtesy of help from Nicki Minaj).

Still, all the heat and buzz of the moment belongs to Meghan Trainor, a 20-year-old Nashville lady (she moved there when she was 19) whose song “All About That Bass,” a rockabilly-funky anthem for the big-boned and those who love (or lust after) them, has gone to number one in many countries and made any follow-up to her current EP, Title, worth anticipating.


Thursday, December 18: Banks at Rave

British writer Cyril Connolly, known mostly for his literary criticism, gets credit for penning this: “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” Gillian Banks is American and was born nearly a decade and a half after Connolly died, but she might sense the truth of his words.

Her debut full-length as just Banks, Goddess, sonically resembles the work of a wide variety of other women—Adele, FKA Twigs, Lorde—brushing up against and altering R&B for their own ends. With so many comparisons extant, she might be relying more on atmosphere than craft to generate her moodiness. For now, that’s enough; later, she should keep an eye out for the gods.


Thursday, December 18: Owls at Cactus Club

The last couple years have been good for the fans of influential Illinois-based indie-rock bands…and yes, that’s a small demographic, but in Milwaukee it’s a significant portion of indie-rock fans overall, and they’ve gotten the opportunity to watch at least two of the bands, Braid and Owls, in reunion form.

Owls are the primary lineup of the former Cap’n Jazz, whose alumni also went on to form the Promise Ring and Joan of Arc. The name change to Owls reflected and still reflects a shift toward experimental anxiety with hints of Pavement. After dropping one self-titled album in 2001 and subsequently disintegrating, they got back together in 2012 and then issued Two, a jittery follow-up, earlier this year.

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