Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Chef Recommends...

The Bad Plus
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: The Bad Plus
Albums: These Are The Vistas; Give
Source: Bought used

I don’t take music recommendations from just anyone, because it’s too easy to be a casual fan. “Dude, I love this Jimmy Buffet song!” can be said (and meant) by anyone, but the person isn’t really listening to the music – they’re responding to a memory of hanging out in college or putting on a Hawaiian shirt at an outdoor concert, and, dude, we were all so wasted by the time he played “Margaritaville…”

But I don’t mean to pick on the Parrottheads, because I can be as guilty of sentimentalizing a record as anyone else. I mean to say that when it comes down to taking a recommendation, to putting down some money and investing some time on a band I’ve never heard before, there are only a few sources I’ll trust.

One of them is Jean, my friend JP’s dad. He has, without question, the largest, most comprehensive record collection I have ever seen; it makes The Beast look like an underdeveloped midget. It takes up a room in a fairly sizable house, and has long since spilled over the ample storage built into that room. There are LPs, EPs, CDs, singles and box sets of every stripe. I am confident that he has things he hasn’t listened to since before I was born; I’m also equally confident that he has at least some idea of what he’s got, right down to the last Thunderclap Newman LP. It really is a thing to behold.

I remember the first time I met Jean: It was Parents’ Weekend my sophomore year at college, and JP and I decided to get our folks together for some fine food at Kahn’s Mongolian Grill (where you pieced together your own bowl of food and they’d cook it right before your eyes!). All of the introductions were made, we sat down, and Jean turned to me: “I understand you’re into music.” Yes, I said, and then he asked pretty much the last question you’d expect from a just-introduced grown-up: “What’s your favorite Neil Young album?” Not, “What are you majoring in?” or “What’s good to eat here?”, but a sincere and probing query about Neil Young. I said it would be too hard to choose between Rust Never Sleeps and Tonight’s the Night. Jean nodded and said (and I’m not making this up), “Good. Those were the only two I was going to accept.”

Since then I’ve talked to Jean about records a lot, and with JP gone, he’s one of the few people I can have an entirely focused, deeply geeked-out conversation with about nothing at all but music. So when he told me that he’d picked up The Bad Plus’ These Are The Vistas and it was something I needed to hear, I didn’t even question it. Of course, he was right – it’s way-cool, real jazz made by a piano trio of guys who love rock music but don’t really play rock. They cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Iron Man,” but as part of a grand tradition of jazz borrowing melodies and harmonies from pop; more like Coltrane doing “My Favorite Things” or Miles digging into a hit show tune than the fakers the Bad Plus guys are sometimes thought to be. And anyway, it’s their original tunes that really make the records happen: big, complex, dynamic creatures that roar and purr and float and dive and turn on a dime, each only when it serves the song.
Give is more of the same, and I’m always a little surprised by how good these records are each time I put them on. I usually go for them when I’m in the mood for some up-tempo piano trio, but this ain’t no Oscar Peterson…it’s a whole ‘nother thing, and certainly worth recommending.

SISOSIG? Rock-solid keepers, from start to finish. One of the (many) nice things about The Bad Plus is that they hold a singular space in The Beast; they’re not quite like anything else I have, yet they’re very much a piece with things I dig. The band is young yet, so here’s hoping they get even better than this!


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