Brandon Schneider | January 2017
My first experience at Lincoln Hall in Chicago was seeing the experimental jazz group, BadBadNotGood (BBNG), on the final day of the annual Tomorrow Never Knows festival. Not only did the band tenaciously keep the attention of new listeners with their melodic, albeit often aggressive, jazz arrangements, their bizarre show structure and interesting conceptual decisions never ceased to entertain the audience.
The Canadian quartet, whose sound was described by Prefix magazine as, “often strange, forever imaginative, and ultimately revolutionary hip-hop,” consists of Matthew Tavares on keys, Chester Hansen on bass, and Alexander Sowinski on drums, while Leland Whitty would soon after join as the permanent saxophone and flute player in early 2016. Shortly after meeting at the Humber College jazz program in Toronto, the original trio was ridiculed for their reworking of several Odd Future tracks in their school jazz band, but subsequently decided to upload the footage to Youtube. Not only did the video go viral, but Odd Future, and Tyler the Creator specifically, reached out to the band. This connection would ultimately become the kickstart of their career and establish the band into the jazz scene. BBNG has since released and been included on several projects as of 2017, including four full length albums of their own as well as multiple collaborations with several names in hip-hop, including Frank Ocean, Kaytranada, and Ghostface Killah.
Right off the bat, Whitty appeared on stage playing the main hook to The Champs’ classic “Tequila.” Despite the immediate deviation from original material, the audience was already engaged and loving it. As if that weren’t enough, the remaining members, each equipped with a somewhat trashy-looking blonde wigs that vaguely resembled the iconic Sia hairstyle, then began to file in and light several pieces of incense around their respective instruments before diving into the first main track.
The set contained many audience favorites, such as “Confessions Pt. II ( feat. Colin Stetson)” from their most recent album IV, and “CS60” from III. Other tracks included instrumentals the group had contributed to recent collaboration projects such as “WEIGHT OFF” from Kaytranada’s critically acclaimed 2016 record 99.9%. Songs were performed flawlessly, and most included either sections for the audience to clap along to or breaks for Sowinski to ask how the audience was feeling at that point in the show. This created a more memorable experience for those who are less invested in the actual instrumentation and were instead at the show to have a good time. The set was also evenly paced, as hype songs were interwoven between the slower and more intimate tracks, in order to hold everyone’s attention throughout the show.
The set not only included songs from various projects, but it also showcased the talents of each member. Multiple drum solos showed off the technical prowess of Sowinski, during which Tavares and Hansen were literally brought to their knees. Tavares also played the keyboard vigorously, which included several dissonant notes that only added to the ominous crescendos that were built up over several minutes in their original pieces. Whitty’s ability to easily switch between saxophone and flute without a second thought and Hansen’s flawless bass playing just reinforced the obvious talent of the quartet.
Considering their brief career so far, BBNG’s resume is already extremely impressive. The band shows no sign of slowing down, and after being blown away at this show, I’m just eager to see what they come up with next.