The Bad Plus – It’s Hard (2016) [Official Digital Download 24bit/96kHz]

The Bad Plus – It’s Hard (2016)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/96 kHz | Time – 49:01 minutes | 997 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: AcousticSounds | Artwork: Front cover | © Okeh/Sony Masterworks

The Bad Plus’ new album, It’s Hard, the group’s 12th studio album, and contains only covers. There’s no particular overarching aesthetic to the selection. It encompasses alternative rock from the ’00s (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio); hits of the ’80s (Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Gabriel, Crowded House); a piece from free-jazz hero Ornette Coleman and one from a spiritual descendant of saxophone-blowing and melody-shaping, Bill McHenry; and some other unlikely idiosyncrasies (Barry Manilow). Neither is there a formula for approaching these songs. Some seem like acts of reinvention, disassembly and re-engineering (Kraftwerk sans motorik beat); others amplify the existing energy the best a mischievous acoustic piano trio can (Johnny Cash as a shuffle after too many drinks). Somewhat naive, maybe, impishly tweaked, likely.

For longtime fans of genre-bending jazz piano trio the Bad Plus, 2016’s It’s Hard will feel pleasantly familiar. Once again showcasing the talents of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King, It’s Hard finds the Bad Plus reworking a set of well-curated pop covers. In that sense, the album fits nicely next to the group’s previous covers albums, all of which helped build their reputation as a maverick, forward-thinking outfit unafraid to recontextualize both modern pop songs and traditional acoustic jazz. Particularly effective here is the trio’s languid, impressionistic take on Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Played as a slow, yearning ballad, it brings to mind Keith Jarrett’s fractured, atmospheric flow. Elsewhere, they imbue Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” with Thelonious Monk-like dissonance, and dive headlong into Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” transforming the indie rock anthem into a tumbling avant-garde, Broadway musical-esque theme. The one shift this time out is the inclusion of two jazz cover songs in saxophonist Bill McHenry’s “Alfombra Magica” and the late Ornette Coleman’s “Broken Shadows.” While those two choices sound of a piece with the rest of the performances on It’s Hard, they stand out for their specific, avant-garde jazz origins and work in contrast to the rest of the more contemporary pop choices. It’s as if the Bad Plus are demonstrating their longstanding belief that all good music can be interpreted in a jazz style, whether it’s Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” or Kraftwerk’s “The Robots,” all of which are elegantly tackled here. Ultimately with It’s Hard, the Bad Plus continue to make the process of transforming modern pop songs into jazz standards sound both deceptively easy and endlessly enjoyable.

01 – Maps
02 – Games without Frontiers
03 – Time After Time
04 – I Walk the Line
05 – Alfombra Magica
06 – The Beautiful Ones
07 – Don’t Dream It’s Over
08 – Staring at the Sun
09 – Mandy
10 – The Robots
11 – Broken Shadows

Reid Anderson – bass
Ethan Iverson – piano
David King – drums


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