Please bear with me for a moment: this review is about a young Canadian jazz trio that calls itself BadBadNotGood, which is written as BADBADNOTGOOD and abbreviated as BBNG. Seems simple right? Alas, it isn’t, especially when learning that BADBADNOTGOOD also is known under the confusing names of GoodGoodNotBad and The Odd Trio. Solely judging on the many band names one could say they’re struggling to find a comfort zone within the unruly landscape of the contemporary jazz scene. Or are they just here for the fun of it? Earlier this month BBNG dropped their third studio album since they started out in 2011 and remarkably carries the convenient name… III.
And to avoid further confusion, let me first say that for the remainder of this review I will name the ensemble by it’s uppercased stage name, BADBADNOTGOOD. So, now that’s out of the way let’s talk about the ensemble’s brief history.
Matthew Tavares (piano and analog synthesizer), Alexander Sowinski (drums and sampler) and Chester Hansen (bass) became friends a few years ago in Toronto where they studied jazz during college. Next to their training the three lads also have a profound love for hip hop and began paving the way from that point on. This eventually resulted in two subsequent albums, BBNG (2011) and BBNG2 (2012) in which jazz standards are combined with heavy beat oriented music and features A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West, James Blake and Odd Future covers. On both albums imitation is rampant, that is, in a “standing on the shoulders of giants” manner. The ensemble was searching for a unique sound and subsequently, covering and experimenting helped them in doing so. According to Hansen, III marks the ending of the imitation phase and heralds the start of a new phase with own work in which jazz, instrumental hip hop, electronica and even a whiff of krautrock come together.
It takes III slightly more than 50 minutes to complete and after a few spins I can honestly only conclude that each and every minute of III is exciting. All 9 tracks differ from each other in terms of atmosphere. Some have a more lighter touch than others, ‘Triangle’ for example, is a fresh varying paced post-bop improvisation between Tavares’ piano and Hansen’s funky bass play, whilst ‘Can’t Leave The Night’ and ‘CS60’ are constructed around swampy beats, giving these tracks a darker backbone.
The trio does not simply shifts between these two extremes but is very keen make use of the spaces inbetween by consequently building up and breaking down tension within the arrangements. The start of ‘Hedron’ is relaxing and fixed yet halfway builds up into an incantatory climax of beats and jazz and is expertly brought back to it’s soothing start for a proper closure. Also a track such as ‘Kaleidoscope’ follows the same ab ovo structure, this time however, the trio chooses to frame their music in the context of some lively acid jazz. Special attention should be paid to ’Since You Kindly Asked’, that doesn’t suits the general profile of III, since it’s heavily influenced by a monotonous beat and a krautrock-y synth loop. This breakaway is not a problem for me because own it’s own the loop has an excellent groove to it and, more importantly, doesn’t interfere with the open and clear production of the album. With the later BADBADNOTGOOD, show off an interesting skill: the trio is able to complete a puzzle without the appropriate pieces.
Hansen was right, BADBADNOTGOOD’s initial phase is clearly over. III is a wonderful example of how experimenting leads to new ideas and thus, new music. Although III is probably destined to end up in my 2014 year list, a critical footnote is also in place. On a scale of bad, not bad, not good, good and… odd, III is definitely good. Though, I question if III is as odd or progressive as its seems. I would agree a broad back catalogue forms the basis, yet to what extent did the artists make full use of that and does it really debouches into something original? Touches of The Bays, Jagga Jazzist and DJ Shadow are easy to pinpoint, making III somewhere in the distance, very familiar. Setting that aside, III is obviously a giant step forward in the development of BADBADNOTGOOD. As a team they prove to be precise and resourceful by musically putting the beat back in the heart of jazz again.
Label: Innovative Leisure, 2014
- Triangle (3:47)
- Can’t Leave the Night (4:40)
- Confessions (with Leland Whitty) (5:01)
- Kaleidoscope (7:06)
- Eyes Closed (6:03)
- Hedron (5:41)
- Since You Asked Kindly (4:42)
- CS60 (6:59)
- Sustain (6:28)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 260514