Album Review: The Bad Plus – Never Stop

The Bad Plus: Never StopOver a decade since their formation, The Bad Plus (known for their ingenious jazz takes on rock, pop, electronica and contemporary classical tunes) have released their first record entirely consisting of originals, Never Stop. The piano, bass and drums trio have a special empathy from their decade together and make a great range of sounds creating their own genre drawing close to jazz, contemporary classical, pop and even prog rock on occasion.

Pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King’s dramatic playing ranging from freeform to pop to odd meter tend to dominate the mix but nothing would work as it does without upright bassist Reid Anderson‘s supple playing, which supports the compositions and improvisations perfectly. Occasionally his sound stands out as he thumps out a propulsive ostinato or plays expressively and melodically.

Anderson, a Minneapolis native, grew up a fan of prog bands like Yes and Rush, then moved onto an appreciation of fusion and from there, to jazz. Charlie Haden’s playing with Ornette Coleman was a key influence on him. After meeting Iverson while studying in Wisconsin, he headed to Philadelphia to study classical bass and later to New York.

Never Stop – Track-by-track Review:

“Never Stop” is an immediate stand-out tune. This band can create quite a melodic hook and this tune is full of them. A march-like theme with a stabbing off-beat pop style melody is really quite captivating. The anthemic feel continues through a disco-inspired release. It’s very much a feel-good track – more instrumental pop than jazz and complete without improvisation.

“Beryl Loves to Dance” is another catchy theme – it’s uptempo melody eventually leading to an unexpected place somewhere between a deep groove and an avant-garde classical piano performance.

Some tracks feature some avant-garde freeform playing. “The Radio Tower” has a clamorous, rolling piano over wildly liberated drumming, some great press rolls there. Then four minutes in, a pastoral, odd-time theme emerges with some lovely woody, supportive playing from Anderson.

“You Are” features a dramatic yearning theme, some great piano bass unisons and a gorgeous swing from King. Iverson gets to solo at length and Anderson’s bass ranges surprisingly widely, but always effectively in support. As the piano solo develops, it becomes more explicitly a three way conversation.

“People Like You” is a gentle, romantic ballad, sustaining it’s reflective mood for over nine minutes, developing through some intense rhythmic expressionism. Anderson is fabulous here, combining deep long tones with pedal tones, occasional melodic lines and counterpoint.

“Snowball” is another wonderful ballad. Resonant piano figures sing over slightly abstracted bass and drums creating a rich atmosphere. Anderson is more prominent here with some gorgeous deep notes and slurs. The bass solo here is fabulous, using space as effectively as notes and sound as effectively as pitch. The bassist stays mainly in the lowest registers creating deep, resounding lines, later joining Iverson in what is effectively a duet with abstract percussion accompaniment.

“Bill Hickman at Home” (named for the stunt driver?) with it’s out of tune piano and more rustic down-home feel falls dangerously close to pastiche at times. It is saved by the bass solo as Anderson has an authentic, deeply rooted down-home style theme to his playing and he solos affectionately and passionately as King sensitively supports with brushes. I found the prepared piano quite a challenge to listen to.

“Super America” is an exuberant closing track. Rhythmically it approaches an updated hambone with a hoedown piano feel and handclaps. It closes the record on an upbeat note.

Never Stop is an innovative record by an innovative trio. It’s jazz, but it’s not jazz. It’s never predictable and has some fabulous twists and turns. After ten years and eight records, The Bad Plus are still like mad scientists tinkering with the acoustic trio sound. Occasionally a little clever, but never dull.

Preview and download Never Stop:

Never Stop Track List:

  1. The Radio Tower
  2. Never Stop
  3. You Are
  4. My Friend Metatron
  5. People Like You
  6. Beryl Loves to Dance
  7. Snowball
  8. 2 pm
  9. Bill Hickman at Home
  10. Super America

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