The Bad Plus may not be the answer to the prayers of those musicians, listeners, and industry types hoping for a higher profile; acoustic instrumental jazz remains a rock-hard sell. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King aggressively disdain genre conventions, opting for pointedly eclectic programming, upending arrangements and tinkering with their instruments. It's like Medeski, Martin and Wood's acoustic work but even brainier.
Iverson and Anderson open "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by trading four-chord riff statements, next shifting into a dissonant-tinged melody reading, followed by crashing keyboard falls, a full-band improvisation, and, finally, the piano equivalent of six-string guitar noise. This version is as rude and insistent as the Nirvana hit. The three commit similar creative damage to other pop tunes with a fluttering, backbeat-thumping workout on Aphex Twin's "Flim" and a rambunctious, oddly poignant upheaval of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," the latter of which shuttles from near chaos to a gaudily intense repetition of the song's chorus hook.
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However, the Bad Plus is about more than mere jazz-pop reinvention. It offers a playfully folksy ramble on the shuffling "Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Bears Off Your Ass" and turns in an evocative parade bounce on "1972 Bronze Medalist." "Boo-Wah" is spiked with bebop-meets-classical conversational riffs and the final track, "Silence is the Question," starts meditatively and ends with pulverizing dramatics. In spite of being acoustic, the Bad Plus indeed is "loud," on occasion pumping out maelstroms of sonic fury. These Are the Vistas smells like a breakout. -- Philip Booth