It's not the Bad Plus's fault that their ferocious yet accessible 2003 debut, These Are the Vistas, provoked a torrent of hyperbolic praise. Now the trio faces a backlash of dopey slurs like the ones Andy Langer made in Esquire last year: that they play jazz for people who can't be bothered to understand jazz, music "you wouldn't have to renounce your love of Physical Graffiti for." Setting aside the fact that there's no law against digging jazz and Led Zeppelin, the Bad Plus never slummed to attract rock fans; they simply are rock fans, given to using sacred texts like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Heart of Glass" as the basis for highly physical improvisations and deft, shape-shifting arrangements. That said, the tepid cover of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" they played at their Chicago debut last year had me worried they might eventually get lazy and succumb to formula. Their new album, Give (Columbia), doesn't match the excitement of the first, but there's life in this band yet. Concise, original gems like drummer David King's "1979 Semi-Finalist" and bassist Reid Anderson's "Dirty Blonde" combine the directness of pop with the leaping dynamism that only the most tightly knit improvising groups can muster; the lopsided danzon lurking beneath the percussive clatter on pianist Ethan Iverson's "Cheney Pinata" is a beguiling invention; and the clever covers of the Pixies' "Velouria" and Ornette Coleman's "Street Woman" turn the songs inside out to cast new light on their mournful, pretty melodies. It remains to be seen how far they can go with their approach, but it's definitely more than a gimmick. Saturday, April 24, 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.