There is nothing better than finding some music or a band that make you go, “WOW, I didn’t expect anything like that!” Something that creates an eye-opening moment, a realisation that music can still surprise you. BadBadNotGood (BBNG) are said band that make you wonder, “how have I missed them up to now?” – not a bad thing but good, because life is all about surprises and this is definitely a good one.
Now releasing their fourth album, hence the title, the Canadian jazz group take influence from hip-hop in their compositions – a role-reversal for a genre that has lent its hand consistently in hip-hop’s evolution story – this does make BadBadNotGood’s jazz sound extremely accessible, opening unlikely ears and winning a new generation of fans that think a Kind Of Blue is just a colour. The band have had a long relationship with hip-hop, with Tyler, The Creator helping BadBadNotGood go viral at their beginnings in 2010 after uploading a YouTube video of a piece based on Odd Future’s music, then going on to record a live session with the rapper. Playing hip-hop covers, doing J Dilla tributes and contributing musical compositions for RZA’s (Wu-Tang Clan) film The Man With The Iron Fists all helped lead up to the Sour Soul LP which they recorded with Ghostface Killah (Wu-Tang Clan) in 2015, an album I have just recently got into and is fantastic!
There are three main differences with IV compared to BadBadNotGood’s previous releases; they have become a quartet rather than a trio by bringing in Leland Whitty (saxophone) who featured on BBNG2 as well as III. There are also vocals on some of the tracks, and they have a load of brilliant guest musicians collaborating with them. After a rather spooky and chilling opener, ‘And That, Too’, that doesn’t give anything away apart from the fact that Whitty and his sax was made for this band, ’Speaking Gently’ comes in to showcase why there is so much love for this band. Free jazz and hip-hop are a match made in heaven, and BadBadNotGood act as a musical cupid. Groove-heavy basslines and their rehearsed yet somehow still spontaneous feel make this an early highlight, proving BadBadNotGood are entering their halcyon days four albums in.
Up there with the very best tracks of 2016 so far ‘Time Moves Slow’ features the textured and sorrow filled vocals of Future Islands’ Sam Herring, creating an absolute heart-wrenching R&B number. Lyrics like “Running away is easy / It’s the living that’s hard / And loving you was easy / It was you leaving that scarred” in the songs chorus fills this emotion fuelled track with buckets full of hurt, matched perfectly with BadBadNotGood wistful jams that encapsulates the intense, soulful melancholy on show. Following on from ‘Confessions’ on III, ‘Confessions Pt II’ quickly takes you away from the sombre sounds before Colin Stetson delivers a feral bass sax lead that moulds into tame cathartic sonority by the song’s end. Having featured on Kaytranada’s debut LP (99.9%) this year, the now world-renowned Canadian electronic prodigy returned the favour with ‘Lavender’. With Kaytranada’s masterful drum patterns and musical knowhow on show alongside BadBadNotGood’s exquisite musicianship, this psych tinged track could show what is to come from this fitting collaboration, who have apparently recorded an album worth of unreleased tracks together already.
The spine to BadBadNotGood’s music has always been instrumental jazz and it is no different on IV, highlighted in the classic sounding ‘IV’ and the glorious album closer ‘Cashmere’. However, the addition of vocals certainly adds a new dimension to their sound which wasn’t necessarily needed but is a much welcomed fit. Charlotte Day Wilson’s woozy soul gospel vocals features on ‘In Your Eyes’, a track that would have stood strong with the very best vocal jazz stars of the 1940s and 1950s. In a complete comparison in styles – ‘Hyssop Of Love’ has a hip-hop beat Madlib or DJ Premier would be proud of, bringing in Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins to adhere his flow to the dreamy back beat. This is what you get with IV, tracks rarely cohere with nothing linking one song from the next but it will always sound damn good.