Ah, The Bad Plus’ version of Milton Babbitt’s ‘Semi-Simple Variations’. Why do I love it so?
The Bad Plus. Here we have a jazz trio, comprising pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King, who came up with the genius albeit kooky idea to add modern classical pieces to their body of work. Let’s not stop there. Deconstructed pop, country and rock altered and improved, jazzed up and modified, play amongst their original compositions, creating “their personal brand of avant-garde populism”.
The Video. A scratchy record player, the band, and the dancers: Laurel Lynch in black, Julie Worden in red, Michelle Yard in blue, from the Mark Morris Dance Group.
The Piece. Semi-Simple opens with a six-note melodic theme that is permutated by retrograde, transposition and such, very much in the manner of J.S.Bach. Except this is modern. The work is also an explosion of rhythmic serialism. Based on the value of a crotchet and its possible dissections by no less than a semiquaver, each unit represents a different pattern of notes and rests. Four semiquavers; a semiquaver and a dotted-quaver; a dotted-quaver rest and a semiquaver; and so on for sixteen units. After which the sixteen units are shaken up, stirred about, again and again.
Punchy, pointed, radical and jazzy!
If you want a more academic explanation, you can always read Christopher Wintle’s forty-three-page analysis for ‘Perspectives of New Music‘.