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New take on Stravinsky, re-release of Molina
The Bad Plus
The Rite of Spring
(Sony Music Masterworks)
Much—possibly too much—has been said about the ballet premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s radical The Rite of Spring in 1913, with the mythical “riot” having little evidence of being much more than audience members hissing and shouting, as much as we would like to imagine men wearing top hats and monocles engaging in fisticuffs with bloodthirsty, lawless abandon.
Make no mistake, though; the audience was not entirely pleased with the new work, with some historians pointing toward the primitivism of the dancers and others focusing on the music’s dissonance, for which the listeners were not prepared.
The album at hand by the modern jazz trio The Bad Plus is a re-working of The Rite of Spring, and for all the thunder and bombast of the original—representing pagan rituals welcoming springtime and ending with a sacrificial girl dancing herself to death—this version is surprisingly restrained and composed.
Oddly, regarding this adaptation, Tori Amos’ piano-and-vocals version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came to mind, which stripped down and softened the volume of the original—unlike The Bad Plus’ own cover of that Nirvana track, which supplied a jazz-tinged wild raucousness.
Classical music aficionados are likely most familiar with the orchestral version of The Rite of Spring, but Stravinsky’s first published score for the piece was a four-hand piano arrangement; knowing this, having the dominant instrument on The Bad Plus’ album being the piano makes sense.
The opening track offers the most variation, with the trio being enhanced by electronic flourishes, a sole human breath, heartbeats and the pops and surface noise of a vinyl record. “The Augurs of Spring” offers dynamic contrasts with key beats accented with drums and piano chord slams, but it’s all done fairly delicately; it’s not a driving track, but it’s choreographed with care, with a jazz-centered bass and drum spinal column. The piano scampers and rings lightly with trills, with the composition’s dissonance being the prominent contrary voice.
Those expecting some kind of scorching, face-melting jazz monster will be disappointed, but it’s not a lightweight trifle, either. It’s more like a small splinter that you can’t ignore, with discordance working its subtle magic instead of blunt dynamics—a hiss, rather than a punch.
Dissed and Dismissed
In Hamlet, Polonius said, “Brevity is the soul of punk.” Actually, he said “wit” but stay with me here. Gertrude’s response to Polonius was “More matter, with less art.”
In other words, cut to the chase, with no frills. Brevity in punk is the rule, with the most extreme example being the one-second 1987 track “All” by Descendents (sic), consisting of a single word and a single blasted note. (The exception to the rule is the ten-minute masterpiece “Youth of America” by Wipers, but I digress.) Somewhere between “All” and your typical punk song is the work of Tony Molina, who ruthlessly trims the fat in his power-pop-punk numbers.
His mini-album Dissed and Dismissed features 12 tracks, each with an average length of one minute, and it was released last year before getting re-issued on Slumberland Records last month.
The standard template on Dissed and Dismissed is laid out on the opener, “Nowhere to Go,” which begins with squealing feedback before diving into standard Ramones chords and ending with duetting guitars separated by a third interval; “Change My Ways” serves up chugging fuzz rock and dispenses melodic progressions only after a few seconds of use, like a toddler searching for new toys and constant amusement.
A few songs don’t adhere to the formula, like the drum-free “Nothing I Can Do,” which is as close to a ballad as you’ll hear here, with a sludgy distorted guitar accompanying the vocals before the ending feedback and solo; “Sick Ass Riff” is just a mellow 25-second fragment of layered acoustic guitars.
Molina’s voice is reminiscent of Graham Smith (a.k.a. Kleenex Girl Wonder), being unrefined, friendly and unpretentious, and both Molina and Smith have an affinity for the lo-fi, concise Guided By Voices aesthetic.
Molina even covers the Guided By Voices track “Wondering Boy Poet,” which offers the most interesting lyrics on the entire album. For what it is, it’s an above-average, ultra-tight aural quadruple shot of espresso, conveying an arc of a full-length album in under 12 minutes.