BADBADNOTGOOD – IV (Innovative Leisure): Until III I wasn’t sure what to make of this group. They claimed to be a jazz band influenced by hip-hop, and their inspirers-of-choice were violence-obsessed schoolboys like Tyler, the Creator and video game soundtracks from The Legend of Zelda though they were more than listenable. They seemed like a bunch of young, Canadian class clowns whose knowledge of hip-hop was deeper than their understanding of jazz—that their gimmick of being a jazz group was an excuse to incorporate hip-hop rhythms into their din. But then they hooked up with Ghostface Killah and killed the neo-noir vibe he was aiming for, even if his hearty tenor was too harsh for their mellow grooves. IV, then, is the full realization of everything they’ve been gunning for.
BadBadNotGood are just as well-suited to carry their own weight as they are to act as backup band for someone else. Opening cut “And That, Too” serves as a suitable overture of the styles and theme the album contains (as well as being a really nice introduction to new full-time saxophonist/guitarist Leland Whitty), and follow up “Speaking Gently” an example of how they skillfully blend hip-hop and jazz. They take a run at John Coltrane on the title track and create a Pink Floyd fantasy world on “Chompy’s Paradise,” where Leland’s drunken sax stumbles through the night before the song nearly turns into postmodern lounge. When they collaborate they adjust accordingly to their guest without sacrificing their sound. They provide a soft yet gritty musical landscape for Future Islands’s Sam Herring to lay down a stirring and restrained vocal performance on “Time Moves Slow,” his words rubbing up against Whitty’s jazz guitar as Taveres’s keyboard drone hums in the background. Avant-gardeist Colin Stetson pushes the band to their experimental limits without spilling them over into incomprehensible free improvisation. Throwback R&B vocalist Charlotte Day Wilson is a discovery.
In fact, this is less a jazz record or fusion record or hip-hop or indie/alt than it is a soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist. Shadows and silhouettes swirl in banks of mist, gravelly figures move through the dark. Whitty is often out in front, but neither he nor anyone else in the band feels like its leader, and as a result what otherwise might come across as (and may well genuinely be) improvisatory exercises feels a little too clean, a bit too crafted. But they’ve come a long way from their debut five years ago, and they’re only getting sharper. And hey, if this jazz thing doesn’t work out, they have a future in scoring sci-fi first-person shooters. A MINUS
Ghostface Killah & BadBadNotGood – Sour Soul (Lex ’15): B PLUS (*)
BadBadNotGood – III (Innovative Leisure ’14): B PLUS (*)
BadBadNotGood – BBNG (self-released ’11): B PLUS (**)