Tyler the Creator, Kali Uchis, Kendrick Lamar, Ghostface Killah, MF DOOM – just a few of the big names BADBADNOTGOOD have collaborated with in recent years. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, the group formed back in 2010, taking their name from a comedy series the band’s pianist had been working on at the time. Despite possessing a highly technical knowledge of jazz history and convention, the group exemplify the current trend in contemporary, popular and marketable jazz music – bridging gaps between genres, and thus appealing to a wider audience. But that is not to say that their performances lack the virtuosic brilliance of the all-time greats. The group’s bassist Chester Hansen has perfect pitch (it shows), fashioning lines akin to the likes of Bootsie Collins or James Jameson at times, and pianist Matthew Tavares plays with a Hancock-like maturity. Drummer Alex Sowinski exudes the energy of Art Blakey, and saxophonist/guitarist Leland Whitty possesses the subtlety of one Mr John Coltrane. Their sound? “It’s all over the place”, says Sowinski in a recent Loud And Quiet interview, “it’s really hard to describe… it’s very unique, we’re proud of it”. The magic happens at Studio 69, the group’s private recording studio in Toronto, and the production value of tracks recorded here betrays knowledge far beyond their years.
BADBADNOTGOOD started out playing instrumental covers of hip-hop artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and The Wu-Tang Clan – the music of their adolescence. Hip-hop and jazz are, of course, close cousins. For decades, top producers have rifled through boxes upon boxes of jazz records in search of the perfect sample. J Dilla, for instance, was known for his extensive collection and use of jazz records in his music. Indeed, in a recent Observer article, Ron Hart writes that “the music created on ‘Donuts’ was really timeless and genius”, an homage both to classical jazz and its folk roots, as well as an invitation to future generation to acknowledge the broad influence and spectrum of jazz music. So BADBADNOTGOOD have, in a way, come full circle by creating jazz out of hip-hop, which itself grew out of jazz. Their latest collaboration, involving Thundercat and Flying Lotus, dropped on 30th October this year and is every bit as sweet as you’d imagine. This year also saw the band work with the Swedish group Little Dragon on a great track called ‘Tried’ with Yukimi Nagano on vocals. Their seamless incorporation of featuring vocalists from a range of genres goes to show the variety and versatility of their music, and their ability to hybridize different styles is second to none.
I was fortunate enough to catch BADBADNOTGOOD live at Pitchfork festival last year. What struck me was the sheer power of their sound, perfectly capable of filling a venue such as the Grande Halle de la Villette. Their set began with a cover of Goldlink’s ‘Fall in Love’ – the rap influence is thankfully still alive and well. Jazz music undoubtedly has a certain image in people’s minds – that of the small, intimate indoor setting, a silent, smoky room filled with a certain kind of connoisseur. Yet BADBADNOTGOOD defy the stereotypes of the genre to which they are often ascribed, selling out big venues and playing with an infectious energy which always gets people moving – a far cry from the jazz clubs of old. In a recent Facebook post, keyboardist Kamaal Williams celebrated being the “First ‘jazz’ band to sellout the Berghain. #smokeonthat #itaintjazznomore #wufunk #anotherdooropened”. Are we entering a new era for contemporary jazz music – one in which the lines between genres are increasingly blurred?By George Cooper