I’ve talked in the past about how jazz as a genre constantly moves in cycles (to use Q-Tip’s language), and BADBADNOTGOOD are perhaps one of the figureheads of the most recent revival – earlier albums featured reformulated covers of hip-hop classics such as Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’, as well as fresher reimaginings coming in the form of, for example, Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Earl’. They even dabbled in some shoe-gaze in covering My Bloody Valentine. Such albums also displayed a sort of humour and style that represented the fresh-faced persona of a trio who were barely entering adulthood.
IV however ditches the pig masks, cereal-eating, lion mascot dancing, Lil B shoutouts, and even the monochrome artwork used on past albums. It’s a maturation, a foot in the same river as Kamasi Washington (and ergo Kendrick Lamar), best represented by the introduction of Leland Whittey as a full-time member of the band – returning after a fantastic feature on III‘s ‘Confessions’, Whittey helps open the album with a solo on the electronica-infused ‘And That Too’, then taking centre-stage on the title-track which sounds as if it could have been pulled directly from To Pimp a Butterfly. His highlight is the high-energy battle with Arcade Fire contributor Colin Stetson, trading frantic and raspy saxophone lines back and forth in ‘Confessions II’:
The album also features a heavier amount of collaboration – Colin Stetson already mentioned, Kayranada lends his own sub-genre melting-pot style to ‘Lavender’ by providing buzzing synthesiers to the psychedelic and groove heavy journey, a sound reminiscent of Karreim Riggins‘ debut effort. Walking further down this road, Mick Jenkins perhaps shows BADBADNOTGOOD’s potential in the hip-hop genre when they’re not tied down to Ghostface Killah‘s nostalgia on previous album Sour Soul – this is best seen in Alexander Sowinski’s drumming which is in this track is one-hundred times preferred to a drum machine. Again, following in similar veins as Washington and indeed Terrace Martin and Robert Glasper, Charlotte Day Wilson‘s vocals provide a smooth-jazz atmosphere on ‘In Your Eyes’.
Perhaps the best feature is of Future Islands’ frontman Samuel Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, in essence a solemn follow up to the band’s reinterpretation of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Chester Hansen’s bass provides the engine for the track, whilst Sowinski once again spices up what could have been a very simple 16-beat drum loop, and adding Matthew Tavares’ organ-synth, it provides perfect backing for the wavering and crumbling vocals of Herring as he croons “running away is easy // it’s the leaving that’s hard”.
Amongst all of this however, it should be noted that it doesn’t feel like there’s a massive progression in sound – at the close of the BADBADNOTGOOD’s debut album, Sowinski is asked what he thinks of John Coltrane‘s widely-regarded seminal jazz album Giant Steps – he answers:
“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”.
There’s no such moment, no such feeling with this album – the band has grown up, but perhaps too much. If the title-track did not have Whittey’s saxophone on it it would have fitted in very neatly on previous albums with Tavares’ electric piano making light work of (rather impressive, it should be said) solos, and the strings featured in ‘In Your Eyes’ felt very similar to those employed on III. They have explored new ground in terms of their own personal musical journeys, but on the grand stage of the genre and music as a whole, this album appears to hold less weight. Closing track ‘Cashmere’ perhaps encapsulates these sentiments well – the quartet are obviously talented, there’s no doubting that, and Leland Whittey’s addition is a very welcome change, but it doesn’t feel like an exciting and fresh take on the genre. Yes, that’s a lot to expect from a band, but it’s the reputation that BADBADNOTGOOD have built for themselves, and so we should not be hasty to be disappointed with this effort.
This article was written by Mo Hafeez.