Three years ago, Badbadnotgood drummer, Alex Sowinski, railed against John Coltrane classic, Giant Steps, as a conclusion to their first album:
Everyone’s played it, it’s fifty years old, it sounds like crap, write a new song.
The band have never been afraid to question the sacred cows of jazz, a rare attitude in a genre so often deferential to its canonised albums.
With this in mind, the Canadian trio’s fresh approach is part of their enduring appeal: for them, youthful innovation is a matter of pride. Upon the release of BBNG2 in 2012, they boasted that no one over the age of 21 was involved in the making of the record. For years, hip-hop has paid tribute to jazz through its sampling and instrumentals, but Badbadnotgood is the rare jazz act to embrace the link in return. Over their first two studio releases, the group’s talent and vitality shone through strongest on their covers. Bastard / Lemonade, for example, melded together beats from Tyler, The Creator and Gucci Mane into a seven-minute behemoth that flips the switch from shimmering beauty to frenetic chaos in an instant. In some circles, the reliance on covers was derided as gimmicky, but the band’s astounding improvisation and reinterpretation meant that they were often more interesting than the original track.
By abandoning covers completely on III, the trio have upped their game on their originals and created their most cohesive and inventive set of tracks yet. One aspect of the group that stands out is that there is no clear leader; many jazz projects highlight one particular player but Badbadnotgood is more interested in stunning contributions from each member. That isn’t to say that no one gets given a moment in the spotlight: Hedron, for example, is driven by Sowinski’s intricate rhythms, while Kaleidoscope builds up to a fiddly bass solo from Chester Hansen.
As well as the three main members of the group, the instrumentation is fleshed out by guest spots on many of the tracks that make up III. Previous collaborator, Leland Whitty, contributes his saxophone to Confessions with a tight groove that bursts into soaring notes over the rest of the track. Later on, Eyes Closed uses guitar to triumphant effect at its climax, giving the track a distinctly post-rock feel. It is layered and elaborate moments like this where the sumptuous production quality of III – a step up from their previously scrappy aesthetic – really pays off.
Despite all their developments, they haven’t forgotten their roots; tracks like Can’t Leave The Night and CS60 play out like instrumental hip-hop. Can’t Leave The Night’s pinnacle is a punchy bass drop so lively that it could probably fit into a club playlist without much confusion. These tracks are the most hard-hitting reminders that Badbadnotgood once set out to wipe the slate of jazz clean.
On their first album composed entirely of original compositions, Badbadnotgood manage, at points, to be more traditionally jazz than ever before. Yet they also become even more innovative and unique at other times too. Despite pulling from conventional jazz characteristics alongside experimenting with hip-hop and post-rock on different tracks, these sounds are tied together with an eerie, yet beautiful mood that means the album never feels fragmented. III ultimately feels like it is the culmination of everything this band have accomplished so far, as well as being a bold proclamation of where their capabilities can take them in the future.