Jazz is a genre that may never experience a full-on revival again. Sure, it’s possible – there’s a lot of people out there who still enjoy a good Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis album every now and again, and others still who devote most of their music-listening time to the genre. However, for a style of music that came to popularity towards the beginning of the 20th century – and has experienced a number of revivalist periods since then (most regrettably the swing epidemic of the ’90s) – it’s easy and probably correct to say its time has come and gone.
That being said, if jazz somehow does experience some time in the spotlight once again, there’s a good chance it’ll have BADBADNOTGOOD to thank. The energetic trio of twenty-something Canadian musicians has enjoyed both Internet and critical popularity in their four years as a group, making a name for themselves with both their modern spin on jazz music and their involvement in the hip-hop community. Hip-hop, in fact, plays a large role in how they developed their sound. Using samples from artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Gucci Mane and Kanye West, BBNG manages to create a balance between multiple genres of music, blending it into a style that contains remnants of classic jazz artists with a heavy dose of rap, hip-hop, and EDM.
On their third album, aptly titled III, the band is going completely sample free. This may come as a shock to current BADBAD fans, as some of their finest musical moments have arrived on the wings of hooks and beats that were written by other people (see “Flashing Lights” or “Bastard/Lemonade”). However, the result is a more original-sounding record, fully grounded in experimental jazz sounds rather than the sample-based songs and mash-ups their audience is accustomed to.
That’s not to say that previous BBNG albums didn’t offer some killer original music. Even still, III’s lack of tracks centered on well-known sounds allows the band to completely come into their own as songwriters. “Triangle” provides a good start to the record with its upbeat feel (for a BADBAD song, at least), but aside from a few key moments, the songs tend to drift off on their own for most of their runtime further down the tracklist. Despite this, III never feels spacey or uninteresting. The band remains focused on the main theme of each song no matter how far the melodies drift off center. They manage to catch the listener’s attention with a nice, climactic moment right as they may feel themselves drifting off, proving their love for experimentation is still intact, only with more defined boundaries determining how far they allow themselves to go.
Musical experimentation, in particular, is nothing new for BADBAD. While they tend to explore the sonic limits of a jazz trio more often then not, there are moments on III where some more color would be nice. “CS60”, which basically amounts to seven minutes of waiting for a subtly catchy refrain, is a good example. Ironically, I wish the band would explore more of the sound they seemed to be progressing towards at the end of the track, which seemed like it was going places. “Sustain”, though, which follows up “CS60” to ultimately close out the album, seems really well thought out, and the full-band climax at the end leaves a good taste in the listener’s mouth.
Aside from a few dull moments, III adds up to be a very positive step for BADBADNOTGOOD. The group feels more focused and polished than they ever have before, while still maintaining the experimentation and eccentricity that made them special in the first place. Personally, I’m a little concerned about where they’ll go from here – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for them to take their sound even further. But I’ll try not to worry…after all, they’ve always had a knack for the unconventional.