BadBadNotGood – IV
Innovative Leisure – IL1157. CD review by Rob Mallows
Canadians BadBadNotGood are blazing the trail for genre-bending in jazz. BBNB – as they are also known – are a four-piece who are drawn together by a shared love of hip-hop and rap, which they evidently shoot through the jazz prism via an electronic filter. On IV, keyboardist Matthew Tavares, bassist Chester Hansen, sax player Leland Whitty and drummer Alexander Sowinski have collaborated with a range of rappers, producers and singers to come up with something which is musically entertaining and challenging.
Described in various reviews as occupying the post-bop, electronica and hip-hop bases, there is an evident musical melange on this new album which one might describe as Kraftwerk meets Portico Quartet, via Robert Glasper.
However, this band clearly feels that Glasper has only scratched the surface. With fiery instrumentals, jumpy rhythms and milky, lounge-style keyboards, they are aiming to re-interpret modern jazz for the Snapchat generation, their output has a spunky, spiky quality drawing on the street smarts of hip-hop and dance. They clearly see rich musical pickings in this approach and have used YouTube as their medium of choice to connect with those looking for the next big viral outbreak.
Speaking Gently jumps out with its 80s-keyboard synth sound and slightly discordant feel, laid over dub sounds and almost trance-like drum patterns. Layer after layer of a simple riff, built up like a puff pastry. Third track Time moves slow is also built on the simplest of three note guitar riffs and synth comping backed up by a footloose trip-hop shuffle, all of which is given substance by Sam Herring’s beautifully robust soul lyrics.
180 degrees different in feel is track four, Confessions Part II, featuring reeds player Colin Stetson, who gives the opening eight bars the deepest, dirtiest of sax introductions, over which Leland Whitty lays down some angular, almost free-jazz like lines. It’s at this point that the jazz listener’s ears will perk up and he or she will think: “Ah, now I see!”
Similarly, title track IV is recognisably contemporary jazz in feel, bursting with energy and an insistent, itchy bass line, carrying along a sax riff that brings to mind the post-Bop stylings of someone like Vincent Herring.
Every track is accessible, but doesn’t invite easy acceptance. Track seven Hyssop of love is street-tough music, with a sultry groove contrasting angry, righteous rap from Mick Jenkins, which barks at the listener. I have to admit that the connection between hyssop – a medicinal flower – and what’s on the record eluded me
Innovation in anything, but particularly in music, is hard. Those at the forefront, the musical alchemists, can be chided and challenged because they’re ahead of the game and no-one gets what they’re trying to do until later.
BadBadNotGood are clearly pioneers and, while this album is patchy in quality, there’s enough in there to think that they may be showing us a glimpse of the future of jazz in a hybridised form.