"Irony -- and its allies: surrealism, sardonicism, and dementia -- do occasionally play roles in our music, just as it does in the work of many artists we admire. Consider some famous performances of jazz standards: What is more ironic than Thelonious Monk's "Just a Gigolo?" What is more surreal than Duke Ellington's trio version of "Summertime?" What is more sardonic than Charlie Parker's quote of "Country Gardens" at the end of many ballads? And what is more demented than Django Bates' "New York, New York?"
But just like with those artists, irony is just a small part of the story in The Bad Plus. Here's our real story: We love songs. We believe in the power of song. We write songs as well as we can. There is not anything in TBP's repertory that is not based on melody, originals included. Thinking that we are not serious about the melodies we play is incorrect.
Once, a very straight-ahead jazz player came up to us after a gig and said, "You know, I'm surprised! 'Heart of Glass' is actually a good song!" Hell yeah it is."
Hell yeah it is. One of the reasons I think a lot of people find jazz so inaccessible is that it tends to rely on a reportoire of "standards" that were never experienced by modern audiences as popular songs in the first place, and thus provide no entry point for audiences to appreciate what the musician is doing with it. That's why I really like what the Bad Plus does with their choice of "new standards," taking familiar pop songs and recognizing them as compositions worth exploring, (I think the greatest example of a modern artist doing this is probably Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner") and why their approach has never struck me as overly ironic. That they get tagged so often as "ironists" says more about critics' inability to approach music on its own terms, and their fear of being seen as "not getting the joke," than about the band.