FFWD REW

Good good very good

Appreciating what BadBadNotGood has accomplished in three albums and a handful of remixes will become so much simpler when everyone stops referring to them as a jazz trio.

Sure the three — Alex Sowinski on drums Chester Hansen on bass and Matt Tavares on keys — did indeed spend time in the jazz program of Toronto’s Humber College and they credit the likes of Bill Evans Eric Dolphy and Miles Davis as inspirations. But the incessant need to define them as jazz or not has only led to a plethora of oddball commentaries most notably a hilariously self-important entry on the Lubricity blog that claims BBNG “seem intent on making a bitch out of the tradition” and summoning jazz devotees to “firmly reject these angry white boys.”

The vitriol does make a touch of historic sense especially given BBNG’s deep association with hip-hop. Many rap fans particularly those of the suburban variety utterly adore drawing distinctions between the good ol’ days of Nas and Gang Starr and the gutter music of Lil B Waka Flocka and Gucci Mane (all of whom it should be noted BBNG have recorded jams based on). It’s the difference between hip-hop and rap between music for the people and the soundtrack of a collapsing empire. Or something.

“We don’t really think about it too much” says Hansen the band’s bassist and an all-around nice guy. “From the beginning we’ve never even been clear about what we’re doing. We just try and focus on making music as honestly as possible. We’re definitely very influenced by jazz but we wouldn’t really call ourselves a jazz band because people have this association or their own definition of what jazz is and everyone has a different one so it’s hard to fit in.”

Their latest album III offers up exclusively original jazz-ish compositions all recorded in analog; covers — or more accurately reinterpretations — have been the defining feature of BBNG since their first public appearance in April 2011 via a black-and-white video of them fucking around with riffs from Odd Future and Gucci Mane songs in a college classroom (Tyler the Creator later tweeted out the first video from the group catapulting the youngsters to infamy).

The shift towards originals has been a welcome one for all parties. BBNG’s improvised spin-offs of Slum Village Feist Flying Lotus and My Bloody Valentine tunes (just to name a few) have all been stellar: the cover-of-unexpected-tracks approach could likely be squeezed for many years Weird Al-style. But memes can also die hard. So after a year-and-a-half of writing and a record deal with Innovative Leisure III entered the world. The challenge now of course is to convince fans that the original work is just as good as the covers.

“The response has been really good so far” says Hansen noting the band’s recent tour through Europe was incredibly well received. “Fingers crossed though. I think what we try to do is bring the same energy that a song like [Gucci Mane’s] ‘Lemonade’ or [Kanye West’s] ‘Flashing Lights’ would have and substitute that familiarity that people have and bring that excitement from somewhere else and bring it as hard as possible.”

Such a trajectory has been in the works for quite some time. Back in 2012 they worked with producer and pal Frank Dukes on two tracks for RZA’s film The Man with the Iron Fists. More recently BBNG made perfect beats for Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hoarse” and Danny Brown’s “Float On.” Ghostface Killah commissioned them for his latest single. They remixed songs for Freddie Gibbs & Madlib and JJ Doom. BBNG first bonded over such rappers: now they’re regularly collaborating with them.

“It’s pretty crazy” says Hansen. “It’s the type of thing you try not to think about too much. You can psych yourself out and be like ‘This is so weird what’s happening.’ We’ve been really lucky to meet all those guys. It’s just been amazing.”

Plans are already forming for the next album and BBNG might even feature emcees on it. Or just release singles instead. Lots of ideas. All will work. None will be jazz.

Tags: