BADBADNOTGOOD — BBNG (review)

BADBADNOTGOOD — BBNG album cover Album · 2011 · Eclectic Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Abraxas
The New Standard

Alright then, BadBadNotGood (BBNG), a Canadian trio that comes out of nowhere. Three "kids" that study jazz music together, feel the urge to make music together.

They're young (20 years-old by 2011), they like jazz, they're capable musicians, what are they going to do? That's not the whole story, these guys are also big fans of hip hop, and clearly have a 90s esthetic, what Coltrane's nephew, Flying Lotus (dj/producer), calls "the Nintendo era".

While jazz already had its period of fusing hip hop music to the genre and viceversa, hip hop artists sampling jazz (Madlib being the highest exponent I know), this trio gives that idea a new twist. They feel that it isn't a must to have a rapper, since their music is straight instrumental. So where's the hip hop?

What these guys present to the jazz world is a list of new standards, at least for them. No more ‘Take the A Train’ nor ‘Body & Soul’ nor ‘Summertime’, and no, nothing from the post bop era either. Instead, the trio covers Gang Starr, Nas, Slum Village, from the hip hop world and transform those tunes, yes, because they do much more than simply cover them, into a singular mix of improvised modern-sounding jazz with a strong electronic reliance.

Like most trios, each member stands for something, if one goes down, the whole thing changes drastically. In my opinion, the central pillar is Alex Sowinski, the drummer, who is the one that maintains the whole music with the hip hop grooves and offers a unique way of playing the drums within the jazz genre, who swifts from tight jazzy rhythms to minimalistic ones more related to electronica and hip hop. As a whole, a very unique style of drumming.

The pianist, Mat Tavares, is the one that shows the jazz aspect the most; the way he plays the piano and his korg sv-1 with rhodes sound, it's unmistakably jazz. But hey now, he is also responsible for the electronic and modern sound the band has, in tunes like 'Freedom/Billium Evans' and ‘Camel’ (a Flying Lotus cover) he adds a nice flow of spacey ambiences.

Chester Hansenel (bass) is probably the hardest to define in style; he seems to fit in very comfortably. He can be backing the groove or leading a whole tune, like the Joy Division cover, 'Transmission' without a problem. What I like about his playing is that he doesn't really sound like a jazz bassist, and that’s something the band tries to show throughout the album, that in spite of their obvious jazz-inclinement, one could easily avoid the jazz label just by listening to them live (which I’ve seen through YouTube: place where they began to get known and where they upload high quality material that isn’t featured on their albums).

Now, jazz fans will instantly be stunned with the way the album begins with 'Based is How You Feel Inside'. "Hey, that's not jazz!". With a brief electronic manipulated voice saying "stay creative", Alex introduces the band with a solo spot, with both electronic and acoustic drums, which one wouldn't really call jazzy. So what? Miles Davis would have said.

They conclude the album in a similarly surprising manner, with the following dialogue:

“-Alex, how do you feel about 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 fucking modulate it and change shit up, you can play it in seven, you can play it in nine: it’s fucking boring. That’s what I think about Giant Steps.

(everybody laughs)”

It is certainly a provocative statement that can clearly put Alex in the trash bin by jazz critics. But one should firstly acknowledge the sense of humour these guys have, they're not a serious jazz trio dressed up in black suites. Secondly, that is it, their manifesto. Just like Shape of Jazz to Come was, Bitches Brew was, critics bashed it because it broke with the establishment. I'm not trying to compare the quality or the significance of those albums, but clearly BBNG are trying to make something new, a new way of playing jazz, a new list of standards. And that idea really appeals to this writer. Not everything "new" must be on the avant-garde side of things.

By the way, these guys are introducing jazz to a fresh young audience, something that the genre has always struggled to do with the passing of the years, but they're also introducing modern and classic hip hop, electronic and indie acts to the listener.

Yep, 4.5 stars for this, and while I wouldn't say that there's something here that I'd call mindblowing, it's the whole groove, the chilling parts, plus the great interpretation of the covers, that makes this album so damn good. I mean, they covered a Nintendo-game music and made it one total fab piece with lovely piano work at the beginning that then gets very chilling and jazzy, and finalises with some intense piano chords and rhythm.

This is free for download at the band's bandcamp, you know? That's another thing these guys did right.
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