Improv & Avant-Garde 2011: Unstandards - Reinventing Jazz
Published Nov 28, 2011One of my favourite quotes in Exclaim! this year comes courtesy of Badbadnotgood (pictured): "A young person doesn't give a fuck how you play 'Stella By Starlight.'" Such youthful insouciance!
Badbadnotgood are 2011's gateway drug into deeper states of consciousness. By sticking largely to modern standards ― contemporary hip-hop plus the odd relevant classic ― the band have gone beyond every other nu-school jazz funk power trio since Medeski Martin and Wood opened a new chapter in the form some 20 years ago. Bet on this: a trio of young, pig-mask-wearing jazz students giving away their music and focusing on videos will blaze a trail for others to follow.
What impresses most is their sense of texture. Over the years, some jazz musicians have figured out that to truly exhibit a "hip-hop influence" it's not just about precise grooves and licks, it's about subtle adjustments in timbre, intonation and the push and pull of the beat. It's not about virtuoso solos, it's about finding that small, perfect ingredient to go just a little further, like BBNG's perfect ping of an empty 40 oz bottle as percussion, or sloppy live sample triggering.
The beats are the calling card that draw listeners of all ages into their fine sense of dynamics. Their attention to detail with earth-toned kick drums and ragged-ass ride cymbal sounds isn't so different than the precise, body-moving constructions like Colin Stetson's electro-acoustically enhanced bass saxophone or Tim Hecker's augmented church organ drones, if you want to keep following the path into other Exclaim! "experimental" favourites of this year.
BBNG is hardly the one true future of jazz, but they offer hope for a genre that often revels in convention, not least in the business end. With any luck there's a whole new audience who may previously have been written off for "America's art music."