My interest in covers by The Bad Plus waned with “Mandy.” As the trio’s version of Barry Manilow’s first No. 1 hit spilled forth on 2016’s It’s Hard, histrionics outweighed humor, and I started jonesing for the cagey originals they’d delivered from day one. Last year’s self-penned Never Stop II deeply sated that need (while inviting Orrin Evans to the piano chair); this new follow-up of their own stuff is just as pithy and powerful.
Activate Infinity reminds how clever the band’s writing can be. Instead of recalibrating pop and rock titles, the trio composes a fast-moving program that milks mainstream music’s most salient elements: catchy melodies and assertive hooks. Each theme penned by bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King and Evans is instantly infectious. To a one, these tracks have a sing-along vibe.
The band has seldom been long-winded, but here a coordinated dedication to economy seems to reduce the unholy blend of fanfare and melodrama the trio enjoyed milking previously. In general, there aren’t a lot of “solos” in the air, and when they do occur, they take place in compact arenas that keep the action corralled. From the opening “Avail” to the closing “Love Is The Answer,” the band’s exchanges are enhanced by abbreviated episodes, and grandiosity is shown the door.
One trad Bad Plus tenet remains intact: Their chemistry still can thrill. How the band moves from carefree jaunt to floating extroversion is jazz magic. Chock with intra-group wiles, Activate Infinity reminds these guys need only rely on themselves.