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Review: The Bad Plus's For All I Care

Heads Up (2009)
By JEFF TAMARKIN  |  January 27, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars
On each of their previous albums, the Bad Plus let it be known — via covers of tunes from Blondie to Black Sabbath, Rush to Bacharach/David — that they owed as much to classic rock and pop as to prog jazz. So it's no real shocker that the piano trio would release an album offering no original material, or that the track list would be an eclectic one, skittering from Heart (a faithfully reproduced "Barracuda") to the Bee Gees (a soothingly spacy "How Deep Is Your Love"), with a little Stravinsky, Babbitt, and Ligeti thrown in.

For All I Care adds vocalist Wendy Lewis to the line-up of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King, and though it inches the Bad Plus closer to the pop mainstream, it never loses the particular rhythmic and harmonic quirks that have defined them so far. At the CD's best — the Flaming Lips' "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," Wilco's "Radio Cure," Roger Miller's "Lock, Stock and Teardrops," even Yes's "Long Distance Runaround" — time is stretched like taffy, splinters of sound jab and dart and disappear, and all four participants flirt with detachment and dissonance even while holding tight to the center. But elsewhere, Lewis can seem like the fourth wheel she is.

On the opening "Lithium" (the group's second Nirvana cover — "Smells like Teen Spirit" anchored their debut), she merely echoes Cobain, and the disjointed Pink Floyd tune "Comfortably Numb," despite sparkling individual performances from the core trio, would have come off less bar-band and more Bad Plus had the vocals been stripped altogether.
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