Album review: The Bad Plus – "For All I Care"

The Bad Plus
For All I Care
Universal Classics
February 3, 2009

For jazz trio The Bad Plus playing inventive and creative covers of popular rock songs has been a signature part of their musical progression. The group’s latest album matches the trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King with vocalist Wendy Lewis.

“For All I Care” marks two new advances in the band’s history. For one, it is the first all cover album from the band. In addition, Lewis’ arrival to the group marks the first time they match vocals up with their inventive covers. Fortunately for all involved the new concept turns out beautiful. The vocals correlate perfectly with the trio’s style of music.

What makes The Bad Plus’ covers so unique is the way they transform popular rock songs into intense jazz pieces. They’ve done it to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars, Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which is perhaps their most popular and notorious cover to date. Because the trio is made up of a pianist, a bassist and a drummer the ever popular guitar pieces must be made up for, which is where the true creative nature of the trio comes into play.

“For All I Care” covers all walks of music. It begins with a cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” before transitioning into a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Similarities in both songs are of course very noticeable but each cover takes on a mind of its own. Lewis’ warm and low key vocals add to this. The group sublimely takes the song out of its previous realm and into the jazz world.

I am typically not one to drool over covers but The Bad Plus happens to be an exception. This is not the case of a group trying to sound like another group. You realize it’s a Pink Floyd song but it’s an entirely different experience. The same holds true to the cover of The Flaming Lip’s “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”.

The Bad Plus tackles it all in their newest album. From some of the most notable progressive rock songs to 20th century classic arrangements from the likes of György Ligeti and Milton Babbitt each cover is a new experience in of itself. Long time fans of the trio might be disappointed with the lack of their usually brilliant original recordings. Otherwise, “For All I Care” is an interesting, intriguing and ultimately very satisfying album full of reworked songs from at least one band or artist we can all identify with.


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