|Do the Math/Heads Up/Concord
The Bad Plus have made their first album that's, well, not so good. Previous sets have shown them to be a venturesome piano trio that plays instrumental jazz with a rock attitude, an innovative style, and incredible chops. However, for their new album, they've hooked up with an "alt-rock vocalist" - that's how she's advertised in the press release, like it's a button you'd wear to a career fair - and this +1 turns out to be negative.
There's little chemistry between the trio and singer Wendy Lewis. She seems distanced from and indifferent to the material - which may not be entirely her fault, since it's all covers and all over the map. It's hard to bring emotional coherence to a program as varied and random as one that includes tunes plucked from prog-rock heroes Pink Floyd ("Comfortably Numb") and Yes ("Long Distance Runaround") as well as from indie-rock godheads Nirvana ("Lithium"), Wilco ("Radio Cure"), and the Flaming Lips ("Feeling Yourself Disintegrate"). Granted, several of those songs share themes of alienation and withdrawal, which might provide a certain logic. But that doesn't explain the inclusion of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," Heart's "Barracuda," and Roger Miller's "Lock, Stock, and Teardrops." Not forgetting Igor Stravinsky, whose "Variation d'Apollon" also gets a blow.
It all starts out promisingly enough with an inventive take on "Lithium" that makes you think yesteryear's indie-rock classics might just become tomorrow's jazz standards. But it's all downhill from there, as the Bads plus Lewis sleepily sandbag one tune after another. Okay, it's all music, and they're entitled to do what they want. But For All I Care adds up to less than its constituent parts - and the experiment of being "joined by" a singer confines rather than advances the Bad Plus's usually captivating agenda.
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