The Bad Plus: Never Stop

The Bad Plus: Never Stop
I love jazz but I’ll be damned if it is not one of the hardest genres of music to review. Jazz has a certain “it” quality, either the musician or song has “it” or they don’t and I do not think that “it” can be defined. But with that said, The Bad Plus definitely have “it”. Over the last decade, the Minnesota-based trio have released album after album of genre-bending and redefining music. Their latest effort is Never Stop, their first album comprised of all original compositions.
For non-fans of the Bad Plus, having an all original album does not sound like a big deal but for Bad Plus fans they know this is huge. One of the things that has made the Bad Plus such a fan favorite are their esoteric takes on such classic pop tunes as Radiohead‘s “Karma Police” or the theme from Chariots of Fire. My fear was a Bad Plus album would not feel like a Bad Plus album without any covers.
The truth is, the Bad Plus still manage to be very Bad Plus-y even without renditions of others’ tunes. The album kicks off with “The Radio Tower Has A Beating Heart”. The track is an Ornette Coleman-esque free jazz exposition. It feels uneasy and disjointed yet manages to be a fun listen. The album settles in quickly though. The album’s title track feels like it could easily be a hit pop song if played by traditional rock instruments and given vocals. The track maybe among the best the Bad Plus have ever recorded, original or covered.
But as with any album, there are high points and low points. The Bad Plus get a little self-indulgent (a jazz group? self-indulgent? Never!). They fall in love with long, slow songs like the nearly 9+ minute epic “People Like You” or the nearly 8 minute “Snowball”. These songs, while relaxing, seem meandering and purposeless. The only long song that really seems to get it right is the album’s second to last song, “Bill Hickman At Home”. The song clocks in at just over 9 minutes but has a Thelonious Monk‘s “Dinah” feel to it that makes it appealing to me.
In the end, I think Never Stop has to be considered a triumph. For Bad Plus fans, the exclusion of a cover is not missed and for non-Bad Plus fans I think there are enough accessible jazz songs on the album to get into it.
Rating: 7.7/10
MP3: The Bad Plus “Never Stop”
Buy: iTunes