Herbie Hancock expressed that, “Jazz has borrowed from other genres of music and also has lent itself to other genres of music.” Taking certain elements and sounds from the past to lend an ambiguous timelessness to the present is not an easy task, especially in these hyper-critical times where authenticity is marred as a feigned effort. However, Hancock’s sentiment could not be truer in describing the relationship between jazz and hip hop, two genres that have upheld a sincerely progressive and effortless entanglement. Instrumental improvisation and freedom of thought are integral aspects of both jazz and hip hop, which is why the marriage of these musical forces is often absolved of (but, certainly not immune to) doubt toward the intent of the music made through lustrous combination of genres. I have always felt that there is a respect amongst hip hop artists towards the forefathers of jazz. Subsequently, any appropriation of this style layered with thoroughly modern lyrics and ideology is done so with sincerity and as an act of appreciation to the pioneers that developed some of the techniques and sounds that inspired them to pick up their own instruments.
Canadian experimental jazz-hip hop quartet, BadBadNotGood (known also as BBNG) are making the most exhilarating, interesting and important music to be released in the twenty-first century. IV is their fifth studio album, the first recorded and released as a foursome since saxophonist, Leland Whitty officially joined the band in January of this year, after appearing consistently on their previous albums. Now in their sixth year as a band, BBNG have composed and produced their most seductively sophisticated album of their career with IV. It is near impossible to fault this album, the diversely imaginative compositions embody various decades, moods and locations. As predominantly instrumental albums go, IV conveys a variety of emotions throughout the songs. It is demanding but not exhausting, consistently arresting yet never assaulting. Moments of improvised chaos (‘IV’ and the mid-section of ‘Confessions Pt.II’) are met with calm (‘Chompy’s Paradise’).
IV follows swiftly after BBNG’s outstanding Sour Soul, a collaborative album featuring Ghostface Killah. How does IV compare to its most recent predecessors? A rudimentary overview of III, Sour Soul and IV, played as a triptych offers a context, of sorts, to the band’s focus and motivated curiosity in experimenting with the potential and limitations of their instruments. III is the heftiest album of the three as the songs are defined by Alexander Sowinski’s resilience on drums. Sour Soul is like listening to a cinematic orchestra, the plot enhanced with semblances of David Axelrod and Quentin Tarantino in the electric guitar and bass. It ties in perfectly with Ghostface Killah’s lyrics, giving them geography through music. Whitty’s presence on IV is a domineering force throughout the album, and the saxophone is a central character to the story of these eleven songs. The dialogue between the saxophone and the poly six synth on ‘Speaking Gently’, is a celestial treat imparted early in the album, it is indicative to the tone of what is to come. This otherworldly quality does not lose its direction into confused territory. After countless listens to this album, I am yet to grow bored of the songs.
BBNG have been intelligently selective with who they invite to make a guest appearance on their songs. Thus far, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown and Samuel T. Herring, of Future Islands, providing an uncharacteristically mellow vocal in ‘Time Moves Slow.’ The inclusion of Herring, in particular, allows BBNG’s music to reach a different audience, a hope that their music will be embraced by music enthusiasts whom perhaps had preconceived notions about jazz.
It is difficult to single out songs as the definitive highlight of the album. They are all magical in their own uniquely thematic way. However, ‘Hyssop of Love’ featuring Mick Jenkins is strong contender. It’s certainly one of the songs easiest to revisit the most, along with ‘And That, Too.’ While this is not BBNG’s best album, I do not feel that that lessens the greatness of IV as an astonishing collection of impeccably played, composed, recorded and produced songs.
It is extremely heartening that BadBadNotGood continue to make music that makes your imagination wander and improvise to extents that it may otherwise have felt inhibited. Listening to their discography is a truly freeing and rewarding way to reconnect with music and your imagination. IV is like an adult’s version of Fantasia, the narrative of each song invites the listener to create personal connections with the compositions through imagined scenarios, colours and places. It’s transportive, spontaneous and uninhibited, just like music and life should be.