Matthew Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (bass) and Alexander Sowinski (drums), the members of BadBadNotGood, met and formed while students in the jazz program of Humber University in Toronto. While honing their craft in the traditional scholastic setting, the three-piece already began to conjure up the buried spirit of jazz when during a university performance exam, they shocked the panel with a jazz soaked rendition of an Odd Future track. Keeping with their motif of being young kids obsessed with hip-hop who happen to carry a musical skill way beyond their years, their Bandcamp album BBNG was littered with covers of A Tribe Called Quest, Waka Flocka Flame and of course, Odd Future. It wasn’t until the release of BBNG 2 the following year where the band started releasing original material alongside more covers of James Blake, Kanye West, and most strangely, My Bloody Valentine.
Now the band synonymous with carving out their own niche are back with their first album of entirely original songs with new album III, their first release on label Innovative Leisure. A sometimes subtle, sometimes eclectic mix of jazz experimentation, the album flirts with it’s hip-hop influences much more aggressively than someone like Robert Glasper, who’s more subdued Black Radio was the last significant hip-hop jazz influenced album to break new ground a few years back.
All it takes is the immediate and hypnotic amen break played by Sowinski over Hansen’s rolling basslines on album opener Triangle to cement that. Skirting the impressive rhythm work, Tavares’s flirts around the keys mimicking famed jazz musician Thelonius Monk’s natural harmonies, yet chooses to play less dissonance to create something more purposefully aurally pleasing.
It’s not until the album’s lead single Can’t Leave The Night that the band show the innovation that has made a Canadian jazz trio rising figures in the alternative music scene. Leaving the atypical harmonies and structures of jazz behind, the track is the first to show the band truly expanding into a sound of their own. With a much darker harmony hinting the band’s obsession with hip-hop and current music, the smooth comfortable grooves the band relish in are traded in for heavy bass drums and synth lines that mimic the production styles of electronic artists like Evian Christ.
This is swiftly traded in for the buttery infectious melodies on Confessions, where a saxophone solo purrs smoothly in a soul-tapping way over Hansen’s basslines which bubble slowly to the forefront of the track. Kaleidoscope may be one of the album’s strongest tracks. Relaxed and comfortable with an extended intro, it may take a while to come alive, but once the track hits its choral structure, Curtis Mayfield-esque horns blare triumphantly in an expansive nature that feels as if the band are casually accepting their own victory.
Stepping away from the deeper grooves of the album’s early tracks, Eyes Closed has a more pensive and bittersweet tone, echoing Portishead’s innate ability to build atmosphere over moments. The following track Hedron sounds as if it could have been lifted off of Bonobo’s classic album Kiara with it’s relaxed drum rhythms that allows the effortless bass to trip around it.
It’s in these moments that BadBadNotGood really come alive as an entity. These three young men aren’t just young kids with an ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ attitude, even as much as they’d like you to think they are. What may seem as a youthful disregard for civility and convention really hides something much more poignant and much more beautiful; here are intelligent jazz virtuosos capable of making a style of music long since disidentified with youth culture accessible for the next generation of listeners.
Words: James Cunningham