The Bad Plus ‘The Rite of Spring’ Album Review

This is a recording of exceptional merit that hits the jazz and classical scenes with all of the impact of its original notorious performance.

The Paris concert debut of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring back in 1913 produced an audience uproar famed in classical music circles. The new rhythms, the driving cacophony and the imagined vulgarity of the work caused a sensation in the delicate ears of concert-goers. Surely, one might think, we’re all past that now. Twenty-first century listeners, accustomed as they are to all manner of experimentation, are no longer surprised by anything, it would seem. We heartily recommend that jazz and classical fans alike take a close listen to an exceptional new recording by the noted jazz trio The Bad Plus – their recently released interpretation of the Stravinsky ballet score is a revelation, for its daring and for its visceral sound and fury.

“These bad boys have the musicianship to back up their attitude” says The New Yorker, and truer words were never spoken. Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on bass and Dave King on drums, have together created one of the most exciting records ever made in any genre. This is not a fanciful attempt by jazz artists to water down a classical score and make it audience-friendly, nor it is it a dry recreation of a limited sound palette with a few instruments looking to replicate the impact of a large orchestra.

The past 14 years have seen the band creating a distinctive repertoire of inventive original music, along with a series of iconoclastic covers of such divergent artists as Nirvana and Neil Young, Aphex Twin and Ornette Coleman. They’ve made one previous attempt at tackling a Stravinsky score when they recorded “Variation d’Apollon,” from the composer’s 1928 ballet, Apollo, on their 2009 release For All I Care.

March 2011 saw Duke’s Reynolds Theater host the debut performance of The Bad Plus’ audacious version of Stravinsky’s score, dubbed “On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.” The group performed The Rite 13 times in 2012, and then, in 2013 – the centenary year of The Rite of Spring’s riotous 1913 premiere at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées – The Bad Plus toured “On Sacred Ground: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring” to universal acclaim, including performances in Ireland, Canada, Israel, Norway and the Unites States. That same year also saw the trio accompanying the Mark Morris Dance Group at the annual Ojai North Festival for the world premiere of “Spring, Spring, Spring,” choreographer Mark Morris’ acclaimed new adaptation of “The Rite of Spring” ballet.

The Rite of Spring was produced and arranged by The Bad Plus. It was recorded in June 2013 in Union City, New Jersey’s Kaleidoscope Sound Studios alongside engineer Pete Rende; the Executive Producer is Darryl Pitt.

The sonics of this record are to be highly praised, for even a modestly accurate sound system will render the impact of this recording to be nothing short of ferocious. This is a recording destined to be known as “reference”, both for its musicality and for its outstanding dynamics.

Further, what distinguishes the interpretation is the electronic heartbeat, the undercurrent orchestrated by bassist Reid Anderson that weaves in and out and transforms the work into something that might have been composed last week. And of course, the dynamic interplay between Iverson, Anderson and King is vividly on display here throughout. They’ve managed to make a modernist masterpiece freshly compelling and endlessly inventive.

Highly recommended.