Bad Plus: These Are The Vistas

Discussion in 'Recordings [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, Jul 15, 2003.

  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    This review of TATV which will soon go in the Maine Jazz Alliance "UpBeat". Comments? Catcalls? C'mon, carry on!

    One View: These Are The Vistas, The Bad Plus
    Columbia CK 87040 (2003)

    Here comes the Big New Thing In Jazz. JazzTimes proclaims that These Are The Vistas is “one of the most important jazz albums to appear in more than a decade.” The buzz – which the band neither completely buys nor utterly disclaims – goes like this: These guys are young, white and look artsy. They’re not all from New York (which is big news in New York). They know jazz. They play famous rock tunes in an acoustic piano-trio format. And Columbia, the label that brought you Miles, Monk, Mahavishnu and Marsalis, anointed the gents with a contract. So if you want to see where the Washington Post says “jazz is headed next,” watch the vistas.

    The opening cut, bassist Reid Anderson’s Big Eater, tells much about the record’s high- and low-points. The song begins with the sound of drummer Dave King bashing a latin-esque beat on a drum-kit augmented by something which sounds suspiciously like a kitchen-pan. Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson roll in, whamming a motif of parallel fifths moving in minor thirds in 7/4. It sounds very big. It’s quite challenging. While we wait for the melody, Iverson takes a chorus, with grace and some delicacy. Then the power-motif returns to close the tune, as we continue to wait . . . but no. Both Big Eater and the album’s bookend, Anderson’s Silence Is The Question, lack a tune.

    In contrast, King’s Keep The Bugs Off Your Glass, is the very essence of “ditty” – four chords; two-beat. I struggle to avoid the mean thought: If this is the future of the acoustic piano trio, invest in Floyd Kramer and sell Cecil Taylor short. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Anderson flies in an unaccompanied homage to Charlie Haden and Dave Holland. Bugs also highlights another important component of the band’s viewpoint, as King drops below “loud” for a while. The lower half of King’s dynamic range on this disc often comes by studio faders rather than actual quietude.

    Much is made of The Bad Plus’ “deconstruction” of pop tunes (though that’s not news, given that jazzy bands have been playing Nirvana tunes for more than a decade). I particularly enjoy the 7/4 disco-beat on Blondie’s Heart of Glass – pop producer Tchad Blake nails the sound, and King is like a rock. Much of Iverson’s playing on the record reflects a classicist’s refined and varied approach to piano tone, and the tune certainly does not suffer from his treatment. The versions of Aphex Twin’s Flim and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit are less successful as jazz ventures, primarily because there is not much jazz to speak of. Smells Like Teen Spirit contains a mere ninety seconds of jazzy piano soloing (over rock drums).

    The good news is this: These Are The Vistas is a good record, and there are moments of good jazz on it. The Bad Plus are fine players and decent composers. They definitely have fun playing, and fun is an attitude too rare in jazz. The disc sounds great, courtesy of Columbia’s rockin’ studio budget. I look forward to the band’s upcoming Portland appearance.

    But These Are The Vistas has a major problem from a jazz viewpoint: It is not a jazz record, and it is being sold not only as a jazz record, but as the embodiment of the future of the music. The past decade has given the jazz world such masterworks as Dave Holland’s Not For Nothing, Michael Brecker’s Time is of the Essence and Branford Marsalis’ Footprints of Our Forefathers to name only a few. These artists and so many others cast visions in which the path blazed by Blakey, Davis, Rollins, Coltrane and Mingus leads to a lively city. These Are The Vistas aims toward the suburbs, where jazz is a point of reference rather than a destination.

    Ultimately, These Are The Vistas is appropriately named. The album is like a road overlooking the Jazz River: It offers a fine view, but moves past the deep water all too quickly.
  2. Superb, Samuel.
    Haven´t heard the whole record, but a couple of tunes only. Still, with only that little experience I can agree with You totally. Nice writing, too.

  3. Very nice writing and analysis, Samuel.

    I guess my issue with this has to do with how much your article seems to look only from the jazz viewpoint. As you have stated and I very willingly concede, this is a jazz publication so that slant is to be expected. While I don't "know" you to be a "jazz snob" and I don't mean to label you as such, I think pursuing a strict jazz-centric viewpoint to the exclusion of others discounts the positive changes that can result from utilizing jazz to create something new.

    Is The Bad Plus and/or TATV the zenith of such stylistic cross-breeding? Almost certainly not, IMO, and it's silly to prematurely annoint them as the Big New Important Jazz Thing. Hell, it's pretty silly to apply that label to anything - taste is too subjective.

    Should such cross-breeding occur? IMHO, it's irresponsible and a disservice to both the spirit of music and innovation not to.

    I feel that the records you mentioned and TATV are at different points along the same continuum of musical innovation. Granted, not everyone will like all points on said continuum - that would be one thoroughly boring and bland bunch of "music". I'm not even nuts about every track on this record but I am excited that TBP is integrating jazz into different experiences, backgrounds, and sounds to create something not jazz but just different. Good different, IMO.

    Again, I don't think you're a jazz snob and the writing and analysis in this article are very strong.

    Just my $0.02...
  4. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Loud & clear, Dan. I absolutely agree about the Inherant Worth & Dignity of All Music -- I've played everything from pop to chamber music to clog dances. I took a jazz-centered approach not only because I was writing for a jazz periodical (even if it is only the "The Maine Bi-Monthly Blort"), but because the piece is a reaction to all the hype about how TATV is the Greatest Jazz Since [insert your fave jazz here].

    TATV is a good album, but it cannot be a great jazz album because it does not focus on extended improvisation. Whatever you think "jazz is" -- and we each have our own opinion -- I think it's impossible to "be modern jazz" without a focus on extended improvisation. And lots of critics seem to be saying exactly the opposite when they hold up TATV as "where the music is headed."

    Jazz continues to grow. It grew in the 80s and 90s with the inclusion of string-band and world-beat strains (and lots of jazz snobs never even noticed). It's growing now. The Bad Plus may be jazz leaders now or in the future. Maybe their live shows center more on improvisation than TATV. But (in case you can't tell) it gets under my skin when somebody says that this record -- not the band, but the record -- is the future of jazz. To put it mildly, "I don't think so and I hope not."

    C'mon, folks, pipe in, will ya?
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Nice writing Sam, can't believe I missed this thread. I've heard a lot about this group, but sadly have not yet heard their music. I need to get a hold of this CD and check it out.
  6. I've only heard "Heart of Glass" from TATV and have to say I am interested in this group. But I do think it discounts everything else going on in jazz to say this alblum or group is "the next big thing". Bye the way, nice review Sam.
    Just my $0.02
  7. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Austin, TX
    I have two beefs with your review (having just seen them play with Garage a Trois in Portland).

    1. You say "The lower half of King’s dynamic range on this disc often comes by studio faders rather than actual quietude. " - I can't comment fully on this, having not heard more than a couple tracks from the album, however, I would note his extensive use of dynamics in the live show, including playing with his hands.

    2. On a higher level, I would comment that they didn't seem to me to be a band that should be discounted as not being jazz because they lack "extended improvisation". In fact, much of the show was taken up by improvisation on originals, popular tunes, or jazz tunes. I am also not accusing you of snobbery, merely having trouble really finding out where the notion that they don't improvise comes from? I heard it all over the place, and I guess this may be the difference between live and the album (though I have hear some of the album as I said) or a difference in our definitions of improvisation.

    Oh by the way, I thought they sounded great, although the sound was a little lost in the venue at parts of the room. Anderson's bass sounded "ok" to me. Everyone's playing, on the other hand, was fantastic, IMO. Great take on 'Iron Man' - after playing the original parts, they took it up to a major key, and made it 'pretty'. Made me chuckle..