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The Bad Plus - It's Hard / Buffalo News review

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The Bad Plus, "It's Hard" (SONY/Okeh). The photography on the group's 14th disc is certainly cool. And there's nothing wrong with the repertoire either. Says Bad Plus drummer Dave King "after several years of focusing largely on original music, we thought it would be creatively challenging to return to arranging music that's not ours. We chose the songs together, arranged them together and got in the garage and played them together. It's a distinctly different process than anything else we do and we feel we do it uniquely enough to take another stab at it after 13 albums and 16 years together." Yes, and no it seems to me. For every one that works pretty well – Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" recorded shortly before his death and TV On the Radio's "Staring at the Sun" – there seem to be three that are ungainly or just don't work at all. Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Maps" becomes Free Jazz but Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" and Barry Manilow's "Mandy" are more clumsy than they should be. "Mandy" begins with an "every man for himself" approach that negates the song and the musicians and becomes a tempo rubato nightmare. The trouble, often, is drummer King who is simply not gifted enough as a "free jazz drummer" to improvise engagingly around and behind what pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Reid Anderson are doing. I keep wondering how the pianist and bassist would deal with a Jack De Johnette or a Jeff "Tain" Watts – not to mention what they could have done with Paul Motian. Two and a half stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)    SEE THE FULL Buffalo News PAGE