By Jason Herring, August 4 2016 —
The first album by Toronto jazz quartet BADBADNOTGOOD, released nearly five years ago, was filled with stretched-out jam covers of tracks by rappers like Nas and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. While the musicianship was impressive, the band’s early work was mostly enjoyable for the novelty of hearing new takes on hip-hop classics.
Now on their fourth album, BBNG write all of their own music, and it’s other artists who collaborate with them — including rapper Ghostface Killah and Canadian producer Kaytranada. The result makes IV the band’s best work yet and a unique take on contemporary jazz.
The album opens with a one-two punch in “And That, Too” and “Speaking Gently.” The former progresses with a tentative curiosity, building in intensity before returning to its sparse core. “Speaking Gently” balances on a strong electric piano melody, but reaches another level with a show-stealing saxophone solo from Leland Whitty.
Two ballads highlight IV, “In Your Eyes” being the most impressive. The hazy song wouldn’t feel out of place in a James Bond movie, and BBNG’s crisp instrumentation is a perfect backdrop for Charlotte Day Wilson’s sultry vocals. Later, Sam Herring of Future Islands lends his voice to the contemplative “Time Moves Slow.”
As a whole, IV is less heavy than BBNG’s previous work. The absence of jam tracks helps the album feel more contained, with each song focused within a tight composition.
There are some more upbeat moments on the album, including the title track, which evolves into a monstrous post-bop groove before giving way to a lone tenor saxophone. Then the band gives rapper Mick Jenkins a strong backbeat with on “Hyssop of Love.”
BBNG turns established musical tropes on their head. The jazz on IV is delightful in its unpredictable nature, which seems to only have grown since the quartet started working within tighter compositions. Even the album’s ballads are compelling and feel wholly original. IV is a great record from a band that’s just starting to show how good they can be.