Album Review of IV by BadBadNotGood.
Release Date: Jul 8, 2016
Record label: Innovative Leisure
BadBadNotGood have made some savvy choices. Saxophonist Leland Whitty has joined the band as a permanent member, and they build on Sour Soul (last year's collab with Ghostface Killah) without once retreading old ground. That record was as close as the jazz-trained Canadians may come to a straight-served hip-hop record, and IV explodes that experience into glamorous, gold-leaf-covered shards.
BADBADNOTGOOD's fourth band-only album, appropriately titled IV, is the Toronto-based jazz band at their most versatile — not an easy feat, considering their long list of diverse projects. IV is the group's first record to feature vocalists, as well as their first album with longtime touring partner and collaborator Leland Whitty as a formal member of the group.As with previous efforts, the band's meticulous technical skill is untouchable on IV. Each song possesses rhythmic and melodically intricate properties that sound somehow both rehearsed and spontaneous.
BADBADNOTGOOD can be illustrated as a band by the last track on their first ever album. BBNG1’s "Glasper" is a homage to the modern jazz pianist who’s famed for his compositions and covers alike. But BBNG’s moody homage is top and tailed with a spoken intro by unlikely idol Tyler the Creator, and features an outro of BBNG drummer Alex Sowinski ranting about jazz standard “Giant Steps” (“fuck that shit, everyone’s played it, it’s 50 years old… write a new song, and stop playing that god damn song… it’s fucking boring”.
Not your typical modern jazz quartet, Toronto’s Badbadnotgood had long incorporated elements of hip-hop into their sound even before Sour Soul, last year’s excellent hook-up with Ghostface Killah. The follow-up continues that theme of genre-blurring collaboration – most notably with Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring on the contemplative Time Moves Slow and electronic producer Kaytranada on the echo-laden ominousness of Lavender. But they are at their most impressive when the thoughtful interplay between the four of them is unobstructed by outsiders, most notably on the dazzling Speaking Gently, and when newest member Leland Whitty’s saxophone comes to the fore, as on opener And That, Too.
On their fourth proper album (not counting Sour Soul, their full-length collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah), Canadian jazz group BadBadNotGood expand their sound, welcoming several guest artists as well as introducing new musical influences and instruments. It's their first release to include saxophonist and longtime associate Leland Whitty as an official member of the band, joining drummer Alex Sowinski, bassist Chester Hansen, and keyboard player Matthew Tavares. The album incorporates more electronics, drum machines, and production tricks into the group's sound than previous efforts, echoing various shades of library music and Krautrock.
Ghostface Killah has a lot of different superpowers. He paints narratives as easily as his heroic counterpart Iron Man takes down bad guys. And like Tony Stark boasts a genius-level understanding of thermonuclear astrophysics, Ghost’s finely tuned ear for a sample is superhuman. The Wu legend was brought up in the ways of the old school.
Five years ago, Canada’s BADBADNOTGOOD, then a trio, uploaded a shaky black-and-white clip of them playing jazz interpolations of Odd Future songs onto YouTube. (Most prominent among them was raucous rendition of “Orange Juice.”) They played the suite for their professors at music school to a chilly reception. Bad grade and all, things turned out well, and they caught the eye of Tyler, the Creator, who became their first supporter, sharing their “Odd Future Sessions” on social media.
In the language of modern jazz, sonic references to different historical periods inherently fail to say anything new. As such, it’s almost essential that jazz artists evolve and reconfigure their work in fresh contexts if they hope to stick around. BADBADNOTGOOD have been finding their own way in jazz through their shared love for other genres, specifically hip-hop, since first meeting at a Toronto jazz program in 2010.
BADBADNOTGOOD is a little more than a year off of their collaborative record, Sour Soul, which was done in conjunction with Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. The 33-minute opus was celebrated, largely, as a testament to the production skills of BBNG, who absolutely shined in crafting the instrumentals and handling the production. Sour Soul possessed a heavier sound than the Canadian group's previous albums and it certainly seemed to be an interesting sign of what may be ahead.
The meteoric rise of BADBADNOTGOOD can be traced to one conceit: the convergence of high-brow jazz with low-brow culture, i.e. hip hop, video games, pig masks. For their first two albums, any conversation about the trio began and ended there, with Alex Sowinski’s head-bobbing rhythm, Matthew Tavares’s mad virtuosity, and Chester Hansen’s mesmeric bass lines confirming at once their immersion in both worlds.
There isn’t another remix quite like Toronto group BADBADNOTGOOD’s spin on Future Islands’ ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Arriving at a point where the song’s popularity was at a peak - Samuel T. Herring’s dance moves a verified meme - they managed to invent something entirely new; a cross between Tarantino soundtracks and a cowboy film stand-off.
This past month was a generally slow one in terms of album releases, and yet Carl and I were able to find some true gems that will surely stick with us through the entire year. I was downright elated every time I spun the rather joyful Wildflower, The Avalanches comeback statement, while Carl ….
An interesting early anecdote in BADBADNOTGOOD's career begins with the then trio's Humber College jazz instructors questioning the musical value of their jazz cover of Odd Future's AssMilk. It ends with the band uploading the performance online, going viral and launching a career that has seen them open for revered composer Roy Ayers, back Frank Ocean and collaborate with Ghostface Killah on 2015's Sour Soul. Jazz excursions into hip-hop, and vice versa, have produced hugely innovative offerings over the last roughly 30 years (Guru, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington).
Since their inception in 2010, BadBadNotGood has made it known they’re rebels in a pre-designed jazz world. Three (now four) white guys in a genre dominated, and originated, by blacks, working with ambassadors of the lawless Odd Future, and sampling hip-hop beats rather than the other way around, BBNG has, essentially, bolstered the intrigue of jazz for a new generation that could’ve otherwise lived without it. Never taking themselves too seriously, whilst simultaneously working with stony-faced emcees like Ghostface Killah (on Sour Soul), these instrumentalists, much like Odd Future members at times, act trivially while making music that sounds sobering.