The Bad Plusâ€” pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave Kingâ€” made a name for themselves about a decade ago by taking sacred cows of the rock canon and morphing them into jazz explorations via their exquisite acoustic trio. Their versions of songs like â€œIron Manâ€ and â€œSmells Like Teen Spiritâ€ attracted not just YouTube views but also curious rock fans who, after being ensnared by this succulent trap, realized that â€œhey, I kinda like this jazz stuff!â€Â In the jazz community, they were cast as renegades, a jazz trio with a punk rock soul, but regaled as postmodern torchbearers nonetheless. So in the same way that their leaderless band finds its gravitational center via a kind of gyroscopic fluctuation between the players, their position in the public consciousness sifts seamlessly between jazz and… if not rock, at least jazz-for-rockers.
On their latest release, Made Possible, they still meld that punk rock ethos with sophisticated avant-garde jazz chops. But theyâ€™ve also, for the first time, introduced electronic instruments to their equation.Â They employ these new tools to some fun effect. On the scuttling, experimental â€œSing For A Silver Dollar,â€ an exploratory improvisational section is interrupted by electronic bleeps. The playful, jaunty piano acrobatics of â€œRe-Elect Thatâ€ are swathed in layers of synthesizer warmth.Â And so on. But mostly, they traverse the territory theyâ€™ve tended so well all these years. The sparse and methodical â€œPound for Poundâ€ features a plaintive melody that soars with an emotionally wrenching climax. â€œSeven Minute Mindâ€ uses complex rhythmic structures, cascading piano runs and a propulsive beat that ends in cymbal crashing catharsis. And the sultry â€œFor My Eyes Onlyâ€ provides a slow burn swing. That gyroscope swings to frenetic one minute, minimalist the next and lopes around to a languorous groove to find itâ€™s balance.
The only other thing thatâ€™s changed in their approach is that all of the tracks here are original compositions save oneâ€” a tune called â€œVictoriaâ€ by the late jazz drummer Paul Motian. Â They may have depleted the rock covers well anyway. With 2008â€™s For All I Care, a collaboration with singer Wendy Lewis, they amped up that angle with songs by Pink Floyd, Wilco, Yes and the Flaming Lips. Theyâ€™ll still wow audiences with those tunes in concert. But this shift is more likely a result of having honed their compositional skills so that they can wind their way and carve their own paths to find that gyroscopic balance with their own tunes, thank you very much.
Made Possible is out now on eOne Music.