The Bad Plus 

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The Bad Plus made a splash last year with its debut, These Are the Vistas, by playing jazz with the gusto of rock stars. David King's big drums drove the rhythm behind Reid Anderson's double bass and Ethan Iverson's grand piano, creating an avant-rock fusion. The guys covered songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Heart of Glass," and they did it with an ironic nudge-nudge-wink-wink.

Jazz you can laugh along with? Now that's a concept. Give is more of the same, and then some. The drums are bigger and louder. The irony is thicker. And the rock song? "Iron Man." More on that later.

Give is a more challenging album to listen to -- you'll find fewer hummable melodies on this one. Gorgeous songs like "1979 Semi-Finalist" and "Here We Test Our Powers of Observation" create atonal poems with meandering piano melodies held together by the band's tight rhythm section, but you'll be hard-pressed to whistle either tune later. Ironic jazz reaches its height on "Cheney Piñata," representing a dream many of us have had: The band paints a picture with its Latin-tinged composition, and the drums fill in the ending with a resolute thwacking of our beloved VP.

Now, "Iron Man": It may not be the best song on this album, but it provides the easiest way to appreciate the Bad Plus' genius. Iverson bangs out the notes on his piano with such flair and bravado, it's like Liberace channeling Black Sabbath. And over the lush chords of the simple progression he rains a torrent of notes, a sprint of upper-register notes through a thunderstorm of plodding chords. I doubt Ozzy ever considered playing it this way.

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