28 Oct
BadBadNotGood, BBNG

Matthew Tavares (keys), Alex Sowinski (drums) and Chester Hansen (bass)

BADBADNOTGOOD, or just BBNG, is a Canadian post-bop instrumental hip-hop jazz trio. Sounds weird right?

The trio includes Matthew Tavares on keys, Alex Sowinski on drums and Chester Hanson on bass. BBNG got their start through the Humber College Jazz Program in Toronto, Canada, where the three bonded over their love for hip-hop music from the likes of J-Dilla, MF DOOM and Odd Future. Rumor has it that they performed a jazz interpretation of Odd Future’s music for their instructors at school… who found it to have no musical value.

Their instructors were wrong. In fact, BBNG fully embraces the spirit of jazz by not adhering to norms and using jazz as a platform of knowledge for innovation rather than a strict musical prescription.

BBNG posted their Odd Future interpretation on Youtube when Tyler, The Creator quickly caught wind of it, playing an instrumental role in the group’s rise to popularity. Check out the session here:

You can get a real feel for BBNG’s jazz roots from this video, especially in the beginning with Tavares’ piano introduction. The group does a great job with building tension in their lengthy introduction to Gucci Mane’s Lemonade, starting at around 0:50. Tavares sits on a simple and ominous sounding chord vamp for just long enough to make you crave a sonic change. What really stands out here is Tavares’ elegant dynamic control, meaning he expertly controls how loud and soft he plays each chord in order to create contour and anticipation in the listener. The group builds to an explosive climax and groove finally kicks in at 2:49. After sitting on the extremely tight Lemonade groove for a while, Tavares begins a solo at 3:42 that is extremely rooted in jazz, with lots of dissonance and virtuosic runs. 5:07 marks the change into a new jam that is even more heavily jazz influenced, with full on walking bass lines and trading solos between Tavares and Chester Hansen. Pay close attention to Hansen’s bass solos, his tone is wonderfully fat and aggressive and his phrasing is on point, especially considering the fact that he is playing the bass, an instrument that is typically not given such artistic freedom in soloing. Overall, this session showcases the overwhelming talent of these musicians, but I think you will be happy to know that their formally recorded music is much more accessible and less heavy on the jazz.

BADBADNOTGOOD’s debut album, titled BBNG, was uploaded to Bandcamp in 2011. The album includes instrumental covers of hip-hop songs by A Tribe Called Quest, Waka Flocka Flame, Odd Future and others. Check out the first track off the album: Fall in Love, a cover of the original rap song by Slum Village.

I remember one time my roommate Austin told me that his phone accidentally started playing music in class but it was alright because the song was Fall in Love, therefore signaling to his fellow classmates that he was indeed a cool dude. Austin has the right idea, this song has a super laid back and cool groove will absolutely make you feel like the chillest guy around. The sound of Tavares’ electric piano on this track proves to define the quintessential BBNG sound.

If you played Legend of Zelda games as a kid like I did, BBNG’s medely of songs from the classic game Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will hit you with a large dose of nostalgia. Even if you haven’t played the game, this three song medley is extremely impressive. The first song in the medley is a beautiful interpretation of the Ocarina of Time Title Theme by Tavares on solo grand piano.

Tavares switches over to electric keyboard for the second song in the medley, a super smooth interpretation of Saria’s Song. Also, look out for an incredible bass solo from Chester Hansen on the final song in the medley – Song of Storms. I highly suggest checking out the links to the original songs from the video game to get an idea of BBNG’s interpretative skill.

BADBADNOTGOOD released their second album titled BBNG2 in 2012. Their sound on this album is a little more refined and compositional than on their first album, but still includes many great interpretations of hip-hop songs. The album also includes a couple original songs, like the tune UWM featuring tenor saxophone player Leland Whitty:

The music video for this song seems kind of silly, with the band members simply hanging out on the couch and eating cereal, but it is actually quite clever. The presence of each band member on the couch represents the presence of their respective instrument in the music. For example, Leland Whitty sits down on the couch when the saxophone enters in the song, and then he gets up and leaves at the end of his solo. The same principal applies for the rest of the band.

BADBADNOTGOOD released their most recent album titled III (or BBNG3) early on in May of 2014. BBNG3 is the group’s first album of entirely original compositions. For some people, BBNG’s departure from the jam oriented hip-hop covers of their nascence is kind of a let down. I disagree. I think it is really great to hear the musical maturation of these guys over such a short time span, and I can always go back and listen to their first album if I am craving that original jam session sound. There are a lot of great tunes on this album, all of which show BBNG’s growing compositional skill. However, I think most people will enjoy the song CS60, mostly due to the dubstep influence. You’ll know what I’m talking about once you hear the drop around 2:09.

Well, there you have it. I think BADBADNOTGOOD is an absolutely fantastic band and frankly I’m quite jealous that they get to tour the world playing the music that they love. However, they deserve all of their success and it does my heart good seeing young jazz musicians not unlike myself living the dream. I plan on seeing them live at the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge on December 3rd, so maybe I’ll see you there.

If by some chance you’re still reading at this point, here is BBNG’s most recent recording called Velvet, a very smooth original composition that harkens back to their more jazzy and jammy days:

Here is their website and here is their YouTube Channel

– Rami

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