Hard-hitting jazz trio The Bad Plus knows how to pen pieces of proprietary gold. But its three members are also known for their genre-leaping renditions of rock songs, propelled by the chops of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King. Here are the group’s ten best covers (in order of release).
1. Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (These Are the Vistas)
This cover of Nirvana’s massive hit features super-scaling runs and occasionally dissonant harmonies from Anderson in one of the final choruses. It ends brilliantly with the quick piano tinkling of Cobain’s famed bridge: “And I forget just what it takes, and yet I guess it makes me smile. I found it hard; it’s hard to find. Oh well, whatever…never mind.”
2. Aphex Twin: “Flim” (These Are the Vistas)
The original version of “Flim” caught some listeners off guard on the Come to Daddy EP, what with its pretty piano line that evoked thoughts of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination.” This rendition brings Richard D. James’ IDM beats to life under the melodic synchronization of Iverson and Anderson.
3. Ornette Coleman: “Street Woman” (Give)
Coming as a rare occasion, The Bad Plus cover a fellow artist in its genre – and a revered one at that. Originally from Coleman’s 1971 album Science Fiction, “Street Woman” is bouncy, heavy, cheerful, and threatening – all while skillfully alternating rhythms.
4. Pixies: “Velouria” (Give)
If you’re not looking at the track listing to Give, you’ll have no idea that you’re hearing a Pixies song until near the two-minute mark. This version begins soft and somber, spreading out Charles Thompson’s melody over King’s distant jingling and tapping. After the early minutes of building, King breaks into a rock beat for some of Iverson’s mean improvisation.
5. Black Sabbath: “Iron Man” (Give)
After you hear The Bad Plus’ rendition of “Iron Man,” you won’t go back. Far heavier than the original, this version cracks into full gear when Iverson’s low notes thunder over his down-trickling scales, which come raining ominously from the intro. Iverson again grabs the attention over King’s heavy beats, layering together chordal harmonies of Tony Iommi’s famous progression. For the outro, the group employs a gentle quarter-time interpretation of the original’s awesome ending.
6. “(Theme From) Chariots of Fire” (Suspicious Activity?)
Anderson’s grooving bass line clashes nicely as Iverson brings in the song’s inspirational melody. A free-jazz breakdown follows before Iverson resumes the theme over wildness from the rhythm section.
7. Radiohead: “Karma Police” (Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads)
Soft brush strokes from King lay a delicate setting for the trio’s homage to Radiohead. After some loose rhythms under the main melody, the song gets huge when the piano returns with Thom Yorke’s “for a minute there…I lost myself” vocal theme. Iverson also handles the original’s walking bass line while King plays freeform beats.
8. Rush: “Tom Sawyer” (Prog)
The poster child for radio-friendly prog rock, “Tom Sawyer” gets one of the most “authentic” replications from The Bad Plus. Iverson and Anderson trade off handling Geddy Lee’s vocals on their respective instruments, but they can’t hold out forever – like clockwork, the tune punches in an improvised break before resuming its course.
9. Burt Bacharach / Hal David: “This Guy’s in Love With You” (Prog)
Faith No More also presented a live cover of this chart-topping Herb Alpert song, and though this can’t quite compare to one with Mike Patton’s emotive vocals, it’s just as sensitive as both versions. Randomly, it closes with a quick reprise of the main rhythm from “Physical Cities,” an original Bad Plus tune that comes earlier on Prog.
10. Neil Young: “Heart of Gold”
Without a released recording of Neil Young’s classic hit, The Bad Plus saves “Heart of Gold” for concertgoers. It often begins with an abstract intro and ends with the three joining together for a harmonized a cappella chorus.
— Scott Morrow