Never Stop II

The Bad Plus

Since 1990, that scientific threesome of progressive jazzbos, the Bad Plus, has been unified toward one goal: an angular, post-post-bop version of math rock.

Founders Reid Anderson (bass), Dave King (drums) and Ethan Iverson (piano) were brothers in askew rhythm and complex songsmithing, so much so that every element of their eccentric improvisation was driven by instinct and intuition. So Iverson’s 2017 departure could have spelled disaster, if not for the arrival of smart and soulful daredevil pianist Orrin Evans.

Rather than replace Iverson, Evans — a Plus-pal with a solo career’s equal footing in the avant-garde and romantic melodicism — makes his own mark, quickly, with his own brand of noise and nuance. Though he fits within the role of strident piano player on compositions such as Anderson’s throbbing Salvages and King’s haunting Lean in the Archway, Evans is truly a Bad comrade-in-arms when it comes to their compositional stakes.

The sidesplitting Boffadem and the poignant Commitment with their passionate rests and busy, buoyant codas sound as much a part of Evans’ catalog as it does that of The Bad Plus going forward.

— A.D. Amorosi

Philadelphia Inquirer

Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James

Various artists

Elmore James has been dead 54 years, and the blues aren’t doing too well either. This lively tribute album gives both a boost.

The fan base for the kind of music James performed may be shrinking, but the parade of talent on Strange Angels shows there’s still a lot of love among contemporary musicians.

Singers who contribute rousing covers include Rodney Crowell, Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer and Tom Jones, whose Welsh version of urban blues on Done Somebody Wrong is an improbable highlight.

But the stars are the guitarists channeling James’ influential slide work. They’re led by Doug Lancio, who leaves no need for words on the instrumental Bobby’s Rock and the near-instrumental Hawaiian Boogie.

Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons and Duke Levine also wield a mean bottleneck, and the wise decision to record the album in mono somehow makes their guitars sound even more monstrous.

The set coincides with James’ 100th birthday, and the inclusion of studio chatter reinforces the party mood.

James can rest in peace, because his music lives.

— Steven Wine

Associated Press

Hellbent: an Orphan X Novel

Gregg Hurwitz

Evan Smoak is known by many aliases, including Orphan X and the Nowhere Man. In Hellbent, the latest novel by Gregg Hurwitz featuring the former government assassin turned vigilante, a call for help quickly turns personal.

When Smoak receives a call from a particular number, he knows the person on the other end needs help. He’s shocked to receive a video message from Jack Johns, who recruited him into the elite Orphan program. He watches as Johns, a man he cherishes, is thrown out of an airplane in midair.

Torn apart by his mentor’s sudden death at the hands of another Orphan, Smoak knows he has to stop a man named Van Sciver once and for all. It doesn’t help that this man responsible for Johns’ death is also the new head of the Orphan program.

Smoak retrieves a package Johns left for him and is attacked by a teenage girl. Her elite skills show she had also been trained by Johns. It dawns on him that the package is this young girl and he has to protect her from the killers.

Hurwitz is a terrific thriller writer, and he gets better with each installment. Amid the mayhem, he crafts a tender tale of what it means to be a parent and the importance of family. He also has a knack for moments of sheer fun and humor mixed with the action.

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press