BADBADNOTGOOD or BBNG in the shortened form, are a Toronto based quartet of musicians that amalgamate their jazz, hip hop, funk and electronica influences to create a fresh, young and vibrant sound that has led to a certain amount of success for the group so very early on in their career.
Established in 2010 as a trio, they originally met as students and much of their early work and performances centred on the group remaking hip hop classics and other contemporary pieces but within a live perspective. These included covers of ‘Fall in Love’ (Slum Village), ‘Mass Appeal’ (Gang Starr) and modern day electronic classic ‘CMYK’, an early James Blake 12” on R&S. They have also displayed their respectable jazz chops on all their previous recordings, of which there are now four studio LPs, two live LPs and a collaborative album project with Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah in 2015 with ‘Sour Soul’ on the UK’s Lex Records.
BBNG currently consist of Matthew A. Tavares on keyboards, Alexander Sowinski on drums and samples, Chester Hansen on upright and electric bass and previous regular contributor, Leland Whitty, has now become a full-time member of the band providing saxophone, guitar, violin and viola.
The very appropriately titled new album ‘IV’ on the LA-based Innovative Leisure Records reinforces BBNG’s contemporaneous notion of jazz, by incorporating numerous elements but maintaining strong musical performances, and here, the group have written all the songs but have also for the first time utilised guest vocalist on 3 out of the 11 tracks. These include Future Island vocalist Sam Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, a sombre bluesy soul number that has a slight Bobby Womack feel, Charlotte Day Wilson, who’s an interesting folk-come-soul vocalist also from Toronto on ‘In Your Eyes’ for another soul stirrer and finally rapper Mick Jenkins performs on ‘Hyssop of Love’. Personally I would have preferred an instrumental here, although lyrically, the Chicago MC is competent enough.
There are also a number of downbeat instrumentals with ‘Chompy’s Paradise’, ‘And That, Too’ and the Axelrod-esque ‘Structure No. 3’. But their jazz background returns in ‘Cashmere’, with some fluid piano movements and the additional trumpet parts work well with the composition. And ‘Lavender’ which features another fellow Canadian and man of the moment Kaytranada, sounds like a funky John Carpenter movie cue from the early 1980s.
BBNG’s music does possess a slightly demo quality – but in a good way. There are imperfections, not musical ones, but more holistically. There are better jazz musicians out there, the mixes are little unbalanced, the studio recording not perfect, but for a young four-piece instrumental funk/jazz/hip hop group their success has been astounding. The album is young, fresh but also a bit grimy – which reflects their musical upbringing. You can hear a bit of Dilla in there, a bit of The Headhunters, moody film soundtracks, Southern soul licks, modern electronica, dusty 45s – it’s all very well acknowledged, presented and slightly twisted on the album.
I would argue that BADBADNOTGOOD are still growing and evolving and are very much a work in progress. This is a very strong set, but they are still very young and hopefully have a long career ahead of them.
Catch them live at Electric Brixton, London on 1st November.