Consider for a moment the career arc of The Bad Plus. When the trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King burst onto the scene with their swirling, intricate, playful compositions and head-turning rock covers back in the early aughts, music fans the world over had strong opinions about what this music was -- jazz or otherwise -- and where this group would go. Over more than a decade, this group has dazzled us with their albums from their first major release in 2003, These Are The Vistas, to their latest album, Made Possible. In fact, Made Possible appears to be a return to form for the dynamic trio after their rather vocal (pun intended) left turn with 2008's For All I Care featuring Wendy Lewis and what came off as a checkpoint in their sojourn back to their trademark sound with 2010's Never Stop. Nevertheless, Made Possible, available on Entertainment One Music, is the group's finest album since 2007's Prog and the clear logical next step for a trio that has arguably changed the game in the jazz genre.
When it comes to a TBP album, while the group have always been fascinating, it's not hard to pick out a bit of a formula. Just about every album has a pulsing, Western-tinged jam (Give's "Layin' A Strip for the Higher Self-State Line", Never Stop's "Super America"), the slow build (These Are The Vistas' "Everywhere You Turn" & "Silence Is The Question", For All I Care's "Comfortably Numb, Never Stop's "People Like You"), the disjointed piece (Suspicious Activity?'s "Knows the Difference", For All I Care's Fém [Etude No. 8]", Give's "Street Woman"). There are certainly tropes in The Bad Plus' oeuvre that they have a tendency to tap into in new and inventive ways, Made Possible shows no different.
The songs on Made Possible are some of the most creatively progressive compositions this trio has put out since Prog, an album whose namesake is a testament to the group's progressive nature. It would seem that of the group's most recent efforts, their latest album seems to capture the spirit of Prog's adventurousness the most. While some may attempt to attribute this adventurousness to the band's incorporation of electronic elements into the primarily acoustic group, these minor touches merely add accent the raw power these three are able to generate on their own strength. The shimmers on album opener "Pound for Pound" or the buzzing at the tail end of "Wolf Out" (the most catchy jam that shouldn't be this group has done since Prog's "Physical Cities") are all just extra color on an already very wide palette; these compositions are already great with these acoustic instruments, it's the electronics that give them just a little more kick.
Those TBP formula tunes come back but with a kind of almost unprecedented aplomb. "I Want to Feel Good, Pt. 2" is a rollicking good time. "Seven Minute Mind" is perfectly titled, even with it only stretching to five and a half minutes. Slow-build tune "In Stitches" is a long, but satisfying climb up its stratospheric 14 minutes. The fact that eight out of the nine songs on this album are original compositions is a testament to the craftsmanship Iverson, Anderson, and King have shown as writers and musicians, especially when one recalls how they initially throttled into our ears and hearts as that group that played Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" before everyone thought it was cool. This is a trio who have for the past decade held their own as one of the most fascinating trios in jazz today and their latest album only proves that they're still growing as the genre has while still being true to themselves. As much as Ethan Iverson may ruffle feathers with his blog, Do the Math, or as Dave King works on other side projects like his latest solo release, I'll Be Ringing You, this core group continues to push each other, play together, and make some of the best music around. It wasn't hard to see an album this good coming, but it'll always be a surprise to see how good this trio will continually get.
The Bad Plus - Pound for Pound
The Bad Plus - Seven Minute Mind
The Bad Plus - Wolf Out
Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio. More of his writing can be found at his blog, In Retrospect and you can also follow him on Twitter.