Album Review: “III” by BADBADNOTGOOD

The members of Toronto jazz fusion group BadBadNotGood, from left, Matt Tavares, Alex Sowinski and Chester Hansen. Photo courtesy of Chart Attack.
The members of Toronto jazz fusion group BadBadNotGood, from left, Matt Tavares, Alex Sowinski and Chester Hansen. Photo courtesy of Chart Attack.

Up-and-coming trio blends jazz, hip-hop and electronic music for a dark, yet consistent quality.

The members of Toronto jazz fusion group BadBadNotGood, from left, Matt Tavares, Alex Sowinski and Chester Hansen. Photo courtesy of Chart Attack.
The members of Toronto jazz fusion group BadBadNotGood, from left, Matt Tavares, Alex Sowinski and Chester Hansen. Photo courtesy of Chart Attack.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
Release Date: May 6, 2014

If jazz hasn’t died, it’s at least been in a vegetative coma since Miles Davis released “Bitches Brew” in 1970. Everything released after that was largely ignored by the general public and was listened to almost exclusively by jazz musicians and those old enough to have experienced jazz when it was widely popular.

Then 40 years went by and a trio called BADBADNOTGOOD started releasing music that was influenced just as much by Odd Future as it was by Herbie Hancock. The band’s third studio release, “III,” is sharper and more controlled than its previous releases, making the strongest case for jazz music’s modern relevance in years.

In “III,” BBNG continues to turn away from the smooth boredom of elevator jazz in favor of dark and brooding grooves. The opening song, “Triangle,” builds from the beginning a creepy piano line reminiscent of Tyler the Creator’s darkest beats.

The effect is a perfectly executed downer of a song. In previous years, the drummer, Alex Sowinski, would have gone off on a bombastic solo mid-track, but he holds back and keeps everything sounding tight and cool as a cucumber. It was difficult to notice in their older work, but this kind of maturity was exactly what BBNG was missing.

The album’s easiest track to get into is “Confessions,” a slick saxophone feature that shows BBNG’s willingness to entertain the idea of a melody. It might also be the album’s strongest track because of its confidence. While other songs dabble with experimental electronic sounds and purposefully complex and dissonant piano, “Confessions” struts with ease, taking BBNG’s unusual ideas and making them sound cool and relatable.

The downside to music that’s mostly groove and not much melody is that it tends to get painfully dull. Even parts of the latter half of the album are bound to see some disinterested expressions, like “Closed Eyes,” which has the dark, layered BBNG-ness of all of the other songs without any interesting or defining features.

However, the album’s eclecticism goes a long way toward keeping things interesting. “Kaleidoscope” is a seven-minute monster that builds to a massive, improvised cymbal feature at its peak, while “Since You Asked Kindly” and “CS60” are almost purely electronic, playing like souped-up soundtracks to an SNES game. The synth loops keep the album well-rounded, especially when so much of it is dominated by piano and upright bass.

Constantly experimenting and mixing sounds, BBNG works hard to defy genres, but in “III,” it sounds like they know exactly where they are, even if no one else does.

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