Three jazz students from Toronto were shot down by a panel of their instructors for their performance of Lemonade by Gucci Mane, but then earned the attention of Tyler, the Creator for their arrangements of Odd Future tracks. It sounds almost like the plot to a bad Teen Nick movie. But Badbadnotgood’s star-studded tale doesn’t end there. Tyler himself recorded a jam session with the band in their own basement, they backed Frank Ocean both weekends at Coachella 2012, and they helped out with the production of The Man With The Iron Fists.
Up until now, the jazz-hop trio’s recorded body of work featured a few compositions and lots of updated arrangements of everything from Waka Flaka Flame to The Legend of Zelda soundtrack. Recorded on reel-to-reel audio tape, III is the first entirely original BBNG release, and by incorporating even more sonic textures it finds these bros melding their institutional jazz learnings and hip-hop drive with more resolve and ambition than ever before.
Dialogue through improvisation is the main jazz merit badge that BBNG still sport on their sashes. Keyboardist Matthew Tavares, bassist Chester Hansen, and drummer Alexander Sowinski all bring a unique voice to the equation, which cycles between complementing each other’s parts and grabbing a few well-deserved seconds in the spotlight. There’s rarely a time where Sowinski will repeat a beat from bar to bar, yet this never seems to distract from Tavare’s dextrous runs and Hansen’s speed walking bass lines. Lead track Triangle is the perfect introduction to BBNG because it covers all the basics of the album. There’s a hip-hop back beat, improvisation around the piano solo, and the type of grandiose refrain that began to pop up on BBNG2′s original arrangements. Hedron is another mellowed out throwback to those motifs, demonstrating the kind of groove an organic band can establish when the standards they’ve bonded over are hip-hop tunes.
While Triangle is really just the starting block for the distance these guys cover, it also solidifies an important aspect of their sound: no swing. Differently, Still, a piano ballad on the latter end of the album, comes closest to representing a traditional jazz rhythm, but the rest of the tracks either attack each beat straight-on or dance around it in their own unique way. The cityscape feel of Confessions features a laid back funk groove and irresistible saxophone hook that almost swing, but then slide and creep forward before bursting into a scene that feels like an illuminated skyline view from a penthouse balcony.
Something that III really excels at is flow, and the transition into album opus Kaleidoscope is seamless. This track is centered around another epic, horn-filled, soundtrack-ready chorus before swan-diving into a calculated yet chaotic bass and drum break that proves to be the most raw, fiery moment of the record. Eyes Closed comes in at a close second, and brings a loungy reverb-drenched guitar into the mix. The quasi-latin rhythm executed by Sowinski perfectly accompanies the track’s upright bass solo, and the climax of the song demonstrates the type of energy that made older tracks like Earl from BBNG2 so exciting.
Perhaps the most ambitious parts of III though are the singles CS60 and Can’t Leave The Night, two hyped-up, keyboard-led party anthems that demonstrate a concentration on craftsmanship rather than spur-of-the-moment musicianship. They are unique among the nine tracks of this album, yet work perfectly in the barrier-shattering context of the record. The final swells of CS60 fade out with a confident smirk, almost like BBNG is challenging the world to ignore them. A bit overly confident? Maybe. But III is an album so methodically arranged yet lawless at times that even its more flatlined moments play an integral role in its rebellion.