BadBadNotGood Continue To Pioneer Punk Jazz w/ Their Live Shows [Photos + Interview]
BadBadNotGood have been tearing up New York recently, catching wreck with Ghostface Killah at the Alife sessions and generally creating a 2nd wave of buzz around the band and the peculiar mix of jazz and rap influences that first came to our attention two years ago. A scant three weeks ago in the dimly-lit greenroom of Brooklyn's Glasslands, Matt Tavares nursed a beer and paused to think on the phrase "live jazz-hip-hop." Tavares plays keyboards and is one third of BBNG, and along with his bandmates bassist Chester Hansen and drummer Alex Sowinski has made major waves in the jazzhead and rapcat pools, respectively. During our pre-show interview, as a crowd of young fans continued to step in from the humid night, I pressed the band on the names that often appear in the same articles as their own--the likes of Robert Glasper, Kris Bowers, and Thundercat--only to watch them smile and give half-shrugs. "I’ll definitely say when we started off in music school, obviously we were listening to Glasper and Chris Dave—everyone was," Tavares said. "But a lot of people listen to those guys and say 'I’m going to make jazz-hip-hop.' We just listened to those sorts of guys because we happen to like jazz and hip-hop. What we make is going to be different."
“We’re in a different league, honestly. A lot of the jazz-hip-hop groups, they’re way better musicians than us," Sowinski added. "But also that scene has a sound and vibe that we’re just not coming from, personally.”
Where BadBadNotGood are coming from, though, does in fact owe much to John Coltrane and J Dilla. Tavares told me of his early lessons in jazz piano and how classic Bill Evans and modern-era Herbie Hancock had a major impact on his own keyboard stylistics, and Hansen followed him up with a rank-and-file list of his funk bass heroes: Jaco Pastorious, James Jamerson, Pino Palladino and Daptone Records's Nick Movshon. Finally, in unison, all three band members cited Dilla as one of their most beloved artists. "From the earliest time, we were all on the same page sharing [his] stuff with each other," Hansen said with a bright, honest smile.
These days the three young men of BadBadNotGood, none of whom have seen their 24th birthday, are beginning to test the production and beatmaking waters with determination. "We've been listening to a lot of old soul and psych music," Sowinski told me at Glasslands over an opening act's cover of "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" minutes before their set's start time. He and the rest of BadBadNotGood are getting more and more interested in production techniques (their latest LP, III, is loaded with samples--below is a brief and shadowy clip of the III tune "Kaleidoscope," filmed by yours truly from the balcony level at Glasslands) and see production work for an established MC as something to strive for in the future. Hansen cogitated at length about the trove of sample-able material that's waiting in the Cleveland soul recordings of Love Apple and our entire conversation wrapped up with a list of which current acts BadBadNotGood is digging. The verdict? All hip-hop: Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, Migos and Drake.
On stage, though, the trio of jazz-learned and hip-hop-loving young musketeers are something else entirely. Past collaborations with Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creatorand Ghostface have proved that Hansen, Tavares and Sowinski can lay back and provide a steady live beat, but with their own name on the marquee BadBadNotGood is a loose, loud and unpredictable carousel of sound. Their Glasslands set opened with the syncopated hits of "Triangle" and only ever kept climbing. Throughout an hour of music that included, of all things, an extended keys-heavy cover of Flying Lotus's "Putty Boy Strut," every improvisation-based song was pushed to a shattering climax of volume and speed. Hansen leaped all over stage right, hardly missing a note. Behind him, Sowinski eviscerated his drum kit. The group plays with the frantic fire of a punk band on the run from the law, demanding crowd interaction and soaking their instruments with sweat. It's possible that future nights will see them more relaxed and careful in their playing; certainly the band's sound will develop, open up and incorporate moments of more peaceful space--all the more reason to see them now, while they're still wild.