Toronto Jazz-Hop band BADBADNOTGOOD have had the modern kind of fame in both the online jazz and beat cultures, where their covers of classic hip-hop beats have gone viral on YouTube thanks to some bizarre directing and camerawork, alongside beautifully twisted renditions of smooth and nostalgia-inducing instrumentals from such producers as the legendary J Dilla to alternative culture icon Tyler, The Creator. Through these covers- that branched out into experimental realms thanks to beats from Flying Lotus and Madlib– BBNG found their unique and distinct brand of haunting and hypnotizing jazz which was displayed on three exciting and memorable projects, but there was always an elephant in the classy, smoky room. The covers that BBNG were pumping out were thrilling and fresh, whilst their original compositions paled in comparisons. Between multiple Odd Future covers, the bands rousing style was not fully showcased in their original songs, purely because the shock factor of pianist Matthew Tavares whacking his hands on the black keys during an otherwise calming interpretation of Slum Villages’ Fall in Love is gone when we have no prior expectation of the song BBNG is playing. On IV, the Canadian post-bop quartet seems to have lost this sense of dread and tension that made those covers so electrifying.
Playing all original songs appears to be a slight misstep on the LP, but the band manages to keep the album sounding nice enough. The drum grooves are unsurprisingly brilliant, with sharp recording and production on the kit. The snares bounce and roll around the mix as Alex Sowinski kills each performance, with tight hi-hats and punchy (ironically) kick drums floating adding plenty of dynamics to the recordings.
Matthew brings the smoothest of chords, of course, but his performances seem so subdued- maybe it’s the rather flat mixing on the keys, or maybe he really has become tame in his old age of 20-odd. The progressions are fresh enough but, again, Matthew’s performances seem restricted and he rarely lets himself loose with his sweeping and wild solos.
Chester and Leland sound like they’re having a bit of fun on the album especially when things get loud and fast, as they are finally allowed to go off the grid a little bit and flex their soloing muscles. Leland’s sax breathes and puffs its way through the tracklist and is probably the most punk thing about IV, and at times the raw power and sharpness of the sound becomes incredible, as the high-pitched scream of the instrument contrasts harshly against the smoothness of the nod-inducing drum grooves and attractive chords- Leland Whitty is the standout performer on the album and he brings the energy when it’s needed most. The bass sometimes cuts through the mix and bangs in the sub frequencies, which adds an aggressive and very hip-hop tone to some of the louder and more freeform cuts on the record.
Tracklist wise, I have few complaints. After a slow start, things kick in on Confessions Pt II, where Colin Stetson brings his saxophone for a session, and the track is what most of the album should have sounded like. Then it’s into Lavender, where Montreal producer Kaytranada (who recently put out a dope RnB/electronic album, which BBNG featured on) helps out on the production end, as well as playing synths and percussion according to the LP credits. It’s a cool electro-jazz jam with a nice beat and cool keyboard work from Kay. The title track is possibly the best on the album, in my humblest of opinions. It’s fast, furious, fun and intense. At around the 4 minute mark, things gets jazz mental, and VERYGOODGOODNOTBAD. A stunning performance by Leland with the tenor sax and rough but tight drumming from Alexander is complimented by harsh bass and great chord progressions. It’s upbeat jazz at its modern finest, and reminiscent of last year’s Kamasi Washington LP. Next up Mick Jenkins joins the credits. The druggy and loose beat fits perfectly alongside Mick’s laidback and cool performance. Features wise, there’s a cut with Samuel T Herring of Future Islands, but it’s lacklustre and ultimately dry. Toronto’s Charlotte Day Wilson comes through with a decent vocal performance, but In Your Eyes seems totally odd and out of sync with the rest of the album. It’s an alright RnB tune, but BBNG fail to show off their talents here. It slows the LP right down in time for the closer; Cashmere, which feels like another wasted opportunity.
Clocking in 50 minutes, IV doesn’t outstay its welcome, instead leaving so much to be desired. The album feels too produced, too rehearsed and more like a recital than free-flowing jazz improv. BADBADNOTGOOD have the talent, the brains and (evidently) the resources to make a really special modern jazz record, but fall short with a decent and relatively fun LP. I’m feeling a 6 on the album overall, but I anticipate whatever the band is involved with next.
Check it out if: You like moody jazz or are into the jazz beat scene.
Highlights: Speaking Gently, Confessions Pt II, Lavender, IV, Hyssop of Love