BadBadNotGood, Electric Brixton, gig review: Rooted in jazz, but branching out

The Canadian four-piece defy genre to perform a mischevious, accomplished set

Jochan Embley
Wednesday 02 November 2016 15:16 GMT
Toronto-grown musicians Chester Hansen (L) and Leland Whitty have a style that’s hard to fit into a single genre
Toronto-grown musicians Chester Hansen (L) and Leland Whitty have a style that’s hard to fit into a single genre (Getty)

Ever since, back in 2011, black and white footage emerged on YouTube of Matthew Tavares, Chester Hansen and Alexander Sowinski playing jazz interpretations of Odd Future beats – a video which was picked up by Tyler, The Creator, garnering hundreds of thousands of views – critics and fans alike have been tripping over themselves trying to categorise exactly what kind of music BadBadNotGood make. Jazz fusion? Post-bop? Jazz-hop? Hip-jazz?

It’s an inessential discussion, and places the Canadian band in boxes they easily outgrow. Undeniably, they’re rooted in jazz – the three of them met while studying it at Humber College – but their jazz is a mentality, a way of approaching performance and composition, rather than a collection of touchstones to habitually reach for. Since those Odd Future sessions, the band has collaborated with everyone from hip-hop heavyweight Ghostface Killah to Future Islands frontman Samuel Herring, seamlessly incorporating a range of genres: soul, funk, even house and a touch of shoegaze.

One thing is for certain: BBNG are less bothered than us about dissecting exactly what they are. Now joined full-time by saxophonist and previous collaborator Leland Whitty, they perform tonight with a playful mischief. The night opens with a Norah Jones cover, which is later topped by a rendition of Adele’s “Hello” – complete with Whitty dropping to his knees to play out those impassioned chorus melodies.

But there’s some serious musicianship here too. Whitty proves what a wise addition he’s been to band. His smoothly serpentine playing on “Confessions” is virtually uninterrupted to take a breath. And on “IV”, a break-neck jazz sprint which morphs into a hip-hop saunter, the rest of the band eventually fall to silence to let Whitty complete a stirring, marathon solo. “He’s just blown his brains out,” drummer Sowinski lauds when Whitty’s lungs finally run out of air.

“Lavender”, a collaboration with Canadian producer Kaytranada off the latest album, IV, isn’t a stand-out track in its recorded form, but benefits greatly from an increase in tempo here –as well as the inspired addition of a cowbell – and now moves with a looming funk. And on a cover of “Putty Boy Strut” by Flying Lotus – another musician more invested in pushing jazz forward than drawing from its past – things grow from stark snare hits and a tortuous sax line to finish with grandeur.

A notable emission from the line-up tonight is that of pianist Tavares. His stand-in, James Hill, is certainly capable, but the loss of Tavares’s tricky, audacious and unfaltering piano solos is felt. It also means the improvisations, usually the times at which BBNG are at their virtuoso best, lack some cohesion and impetus.

That said, this is a night in which BBNG adeptly fuse their ever-growing collection of influences, while still planted in that jazz state of mind. The question of where they go next is as exciting as it is unanswerable.

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