Badbadnotgood: BBNGLIVE 2
BBNG Live 2
Hip-hop grooves and electronics are not new to the jazz world. In the 1970s, forward-thinking jazz giants such as trumpeter Miles Davis and keyboardists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea popularized the sound of electrified keyboards and horns supported by rhythm sections of slapping bass players, superhuman fusion drummers and funky electric guitarists. Since at least 2003, piano trio The Bad Plus has been deconstructing popular rock and electronica songs and even more recently pianist Robert Glasper released an album full of collaborations with rap stars and neo-soul singers.
However, something new to jazz and the musical world as a whole is the concept embodied by Toronto-based trio Badbadnotgood, with an identity that is equal parts jazz and hip-hop. The bandkeyboardist Matthew A. Tavares, bassist Chester Hansen and drummer Alex Sowinskiadvocates an ideologically strong-headed but musically sincere goal: move on from old musical traditions, be creative and write something new.
The group refers to its albums as mixtapes, adamantly using hip-hop terminology, and doesn't shy away from bashing what it considers out-of-date material, no matter the music's historical relevance. On the band's first mixtape, Sowinski shares his opinion on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps": "Fuck that shit, everyone's played it, it's 50 years old, it sounds like crap, write a new song, and stop playing that god damn song. I don't care if you can modulate in it and shit and change that shit up. You can play it in 7, you can play it in 9, it's fuckin' boring."
Over the past six months, BBNG has drawn considerable attention for its largely improvisatory covers of popular rap songs including tracks by Gucci Mane and Odd Future's Tyler, The Creator. The group gained YouTube fame when Tyler sat in with the trio on piano for his "first jam session ever."
Whether BBNG offers something musically innovative is debatable, but its talent is unquestionable. The trio first recreates beats from rap and electronic songs using their instruments as well as additional synthesizers and sampling. After establishing the recognizable tunes, the band slowly breaks away into passionate improvisation involving parametric modulation, tempo changes and soloing. Tavares's smooth and thoughtful playing using a variety of keyboard voices blends with Sowinski's simple but technical drumming and Hansen's fat, pulsing basslines to build an unshakable deep groove. The band also produces original compositions with clear hip-hop roots, but jazzier melodic lines.
In January, BBNG traveled to the U.K. and performed at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards. In February, it released a recording of a performance entitled BBNGLIVE 2. The music is intense and the young musicians sound comfortable in the live setting as evidenced by their smooth-flowing interactions and Tavares's rock star style banter with the audience.
The disk begins with a vocal sample from Waka Flocka Flame's "Hard In Da Paint" leading into a hard-hitting vamp on the main theme of that song. It ends with an equally exciting and bone-crushing jam on Gucci Mane's "Lemonade." In between these musical explosions, BBNG demonstrates a mature sensibility in regards to dynamics and a large degree of harmonic and rhythmic freedom. Sowinski shows off his chops and equilibrium on "DMZ" and Tavares has the chance to display his ability to switch between playing melodies with serene delicacy, and forcefully blasting through solos with speed and purposeful dissonance, on a medley of James Blake's "CMYK" and "Limit To Your Love."
By far the highlight of the album, however, is the tempo-shifting "Rotten Decay," a haunting BBNG original composition during which the trio collectively improvises with awe striking precision. The piece exemplifies the group's confident musical personality, and the crowd's cheering response (while mixed to a minimum) suggests that Badbadnotgood is well on its way to building a strong positive international reputation.
Tracks: Hard In Da Paint; DMZ; Banter; CMYK / Limit To Your Love; Rotten Decay; Bastard / Lemonade.
Matthew A. Tavares: keyboards; Chester Hansen: electric bass, synth bass; Alex Sowinski: drums, sampler.