By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
It was just a matter of time. For more than a decade, jazz musicians seeking concord with contemporary pop hired rappers, who sometimes rapped about jazz, as if that would make their intrusions more palatable. The answer was as close as Miles Davis, who knew to cherchez the rhythm. Jazz musicians who know hip-hop or grunge as part of the wallpaper of their youths are neither intimidated by nor contemptuous of it. They follow a key principle of jazz aesthetics in stealing anything that works ("Jazz is an octopus," Dexter Gordon said), which is different from mixed drinks that dilute both factors. When Herbie Hancock, a pioneer of monotonous fusion and electronic beats, argued for the acceptance of "new standards" (rock tunes), he had to superimpose harmonic patterns to make them playablehe might as well have stayed with Tin Pan Alley. The borrowings of the under-30s are so natural that you may not notice them unless signposts are erected: No one can miss the dubbed beats in Moran's version of Afrika Bambaata's "Planet Rock," but until I checked the sleeve I had no idea that the wildly effective fifth track of Iverson's The Bad Plus is a Nirvana cover.
Iverson, with shaved head and goatee, looks like a cross between Pete Fountain and Dr. Cyclops, and the latter's influence is the more prominentin the microscopic attention to melody, the bombastic bursts of Lisztian fury, the patiently unpredictable bemusement while studying his captured song morsels. At the Jazz Standard, he opened with what might have been a John Ford soundtrack, the right hand picking "My Darlin' Clementine," "You Are My Sunshine," and "Red River Valley," while the left erected conflicting waves of dissonance or bounding ornamentation or a resolute ostinato, much of it foot-pedaled (the right pedal got a fierce workout all week). His control and plangent attack made the instrument roar, though an occasional stiffness grounded him. He lightened up on standards, including a whirlwind "All the Things You Are" cadenza, but he never relaxed for long, preferring to shake the rafters like the bells of Notre Dame.
The Bad Plus is a cooperative with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, and no one will confuse it with an orthodox piano trio. The CD (on Fresh Sound) boasts an unmistakable jazz pedigree, but it also rocks, and even when they play theme and variations, they keep the theme in view, playing at and around it, never discarding melody or the equilateral rapport that gives the group its intensity. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a highlight, the chorus cued by a mad Cubano glissando in an arrangement that alternates permutations on the song's two themes, while the dynamic King steamrolls the beat, caroming into his marks. Abba's hopeless "Knowing Me Knowing You," however, a sorry opener for a good album, reminds us that jazzing pop can be as coy as jazzing the classics, and no amount of dissonance or artillery throttles the banality. Similarly, on "Blue Moon," the trio can't decide whether it likes the tune or wants to humiliate it. Yet the five originals close the sale. "The Breakout" begins and ends stormily and envelops a ripe ballad by Anderson; and Iverson's "Labyrinth" gets under way with a five-beat thumping, before flowering as a concise meditation spurred by the natural momentum of inverted harmonies. One can imagine a jazz-to-grunge reversal here, a rock band laying claim to the piecenot that there's any need.
Vijay Iyer opened his Jazz Standard set with an elbow to the bass clef, followed by a dark drone balancing a light single-note tune and belling treble chords, sustaining a rhythmic pulse without giving into foursquare swing. An airless romanticism blanketed his original pieces and one by Steve Coleman, but gave way to a stirring triptych of Ellington's "Le Sucrier Velours," Monk's "Epistrophy," and a Cecil-like barrage engineered around Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe." He is a stirring player who shares Iverson's penchant for fat chords and pedaled volume but compels attention with long, confident phrases that race around the keyboard and avoid the usual stops. He, too, is involved in a cooperative: Fieldwork, with tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart and another raging drummer, Elliot Humberto Kavee, whose rumble brings Your Life Flashes (Pi) to instant life. Iyer wrote most of the music, but the pieces take their final form through interactive serendipity. There's so much going on, you never miss the bass. And rarely does anyone lay out for more than a few barsthis is all trio, all the time. In one passage, Iyer plays static chords in the extreme registers of the keyboard, and the effect is as if he's dropped out to favor a tenor-drums passage; he returns by claiming the middle register. Stewart's warm sound, reminiscent of Dewey Redman, adds to the flow and intimacy. Only "The Inner World," one of two slow and moody pieces, derives conspicuously from generic '70s jazz; "Mosaic" alights with hip-hop accents. Most of the pieces are terse, spellbinding miniatures that never stand still.