Adding vocals to its covers is a Plus
The Bad Plus For All I Care
The irreverent jazz trio known as the Bad Plus has made its name covering rock songs such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Iron Man," even while the band's bread and butter has been off-kilter original compositions. For its fifth studio album, "For All I Care," the Bad Plus has upped the ante by adding a vocalist and doing all covers. Call it the Bad Plus plus one.
Bringing in an unknown vocalist, Minneapolis alt-rocker Wendy Lewis, may sound like a risk, but it works exceedingly well. Lewis has a pleasant alto, and she turns the Flaming Lips' "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," and Yes's "Long Distance Runaround" into gorgeous acoustic ballads.
Rather than sing the melody on Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," she harmonizes every inch of the verses, and this version of "Radio Cure" - which begins with Lewis's voice, unaccompanied, and then a few plucks of the upright bass - is more beautiful and more affecting than Wilco's original.
Most surprising is the opener, a herky-jerky, odd-tempo take on Nirvana's "Lithium." As the song hits its stride, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King break down into a half-time section that feels completely off balance, yet they rejoin Lewis exactly where they're supposed to. A few short instrumentals - jazz arrangements of 20th-century classical pieces - round out the disc. (Out tomorrow)
The Bad Plus plays at Berklee Performance Center on April 3.