BadBadNotGood, great: When jazz makes perfect party music

Published at NOWToronto.com. A condensed version appears in print.

BADBADNOTGOOD at Wrongbar, Thursday, February 10. NNNNN

Less than six months ago, BADBADNOTGOOD played the cramped back room of The Red Light on Dundas West.

Given that it was the fledgling jazz trio’s first show, the crowd, which spilled out onto the back patio and into the bar’s front, was mostly made up of friends, enthusiastic early supporters and, of course, the group’s parents.

Since then, BADBADNOTGOOD – who built a not-insignificant fan base online releasing spastic, sonorous, genre-fucking rap covers – have opened for Roy Ayers, collaborated with their personal deity Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator, and played at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios. They have a fan in Giles Peterson, one of the world’s foremost tastemakers, and are just back from playing his Worldwide Awards in London, UK.

And last night at Wrongbar they had hundreds of kids moshing to jazz at a J Dilla party. If that doesn’t make you cock your head a little, re-read the sentence. Young people moshing. To jazz? At a party memorializing a cult – but still fringe-y – hip-hop icon, Jay Dee, who passed six years ago today.

It ranks high on the list of bizarre – GOOD, but definitely bizarre – things one might witnesss. More than anything it indicates BBNG’s potential for further success, which is hinged upon being more than just a jazz group that mechanically covers rap songs (they’ve done, and plan to do more original material).

So it was more than just a forward-thinking, local-boosting move for mymanhenri to commission a commemorative Dilla set from the guys. It was a set of mostly original material, with a reconfigured song or two. “There’s no song here that we’ve played live before,” announced Alex Sowinski, BBNG’s drummer who often appears in a pig mask on stage. Dilla’s work is founded in the complexities of jazz itself, so the challenge – that BBNG met enthusiastically – was deconstructing that mathematical craftsmanship: transposing meticulously sampled hip-hop songs into jazz-inflected compositions, and not being tight-up or academic in the approach.

BBNG is very good at taking rap’s gristly boom-bap and burnishing its inner musicality, carrying this through the set, from opening song Jaylib’s The Message through to closer, De La Soul’s Stakes Is High. They perform with slackened precision on stage – inciting sing-alongs to Busta Rhyme’s Woo Hah!! and, the set’s heart piece, Slum Village’s Fall In Love – while managing to retain an improvisational edge.

When was the last time you saw two girls grinding on stage while three music nerds tap out jazz rhythms behind them? BBNG approaches their formal training with the curious irreverence that defines rap’s early ethos and the cognitive dissonance this intentional, but earnest and unexploitative, tampering of the now-staid jazz trope causes is something worth paying attention to.