Wednesday, January 31
On loan from Laneway – Wellington was lucky to get BADBADNOTGOOD back for a show, some five years after they last docked down our way. In that time the prolific jazz/R’n’B combo has released a few new albums and compilations, singles, remixes, live records and plenty of interesting collaborations – from an album-length project with the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah through to finding an actual use for the funny-dancing death-metal-howling synth-pop singer from Future Islands.
A BADBADNOTGOOD record is easy to enjoy – and describe. It’s essentially jazz for hip-hop heads or hip-hop for jazzers, always one, often the other, usually a winning combination.
But the live show – no guest vocalists – is a different thing. The energy is there, and the crowd is onside, but it’s essentially a jazz show. That’s how it starts. And as good as they are on this stage, and the venue is fine and it’s sweaty and packed and the right vibe is across the room, I have to wonder what would happen if they played on a Jazz Festival stage. Would it work? Would it be an entirely different audience.
Yes, you can – and should – like all sorts of music but it was fascinating observing what was, for the most part, straight-ahead jazz, being lapped up by an indie-pop loving audience. Some older heads were there too, but apart from something like Thundercat (and maybe Kamasi Washington) I wonder why this audience isn’t out seeing The Necks or Dawn of Midi – two comparable acts, in the melding of jazz with electronics and dance music; in the way that jazz training is there always, but acting as springboard as much as anything.
Well, no matter. BADBAD is on the stage – and the kids are loving it. It actually starts off a bit like a Necks show, a shimmer of cymbals, some slight tinkling of the piano and a slow – abstract – build to an eventual showcase of groove.
From the energy doesn’t really dip – and though soul-jazz remains the flavour, this Canadian quartet (a trio to begin with, a rhythm section obsessed with turning hip-hop on its ear to let the jazz trickle out) is as at home covering Gucci Maine or Arthur Verocai. You get the feeling, and quickly, that it’s all just music. And that it’s just music that matters. That’s to be admired. And though there are better jazz players around there’s an infectious energy to the way it’s served up by this band.
Leland Whitty is the new kid on the block – a member since 2016. When not blowing sax or flute he slips into the background to add a layer of percussion, drummer Alexander Sowinski ensuring the groove never dies, bassist Chester Hansen on hand to keep things lithe, Matthew A. Tavares’ keyboards provide traces of salsa and samba and the best trick on the night is how slowly, surely, subtly, this morphs from a wee blowing session by a jazz quartet into an R’n’B combo stomping out some tunes to send people home. It’s a very subtle shift.
And it was great.
But it’s been hard to think about after – nothing really stayed in place. Nothing memorable. Maybe it doesn’t have to be? I have their albums, I’ll return to them. And I’m pleased I saw them. But it did feel a bit like kids playing dress-ups at jazz. That sounds like a really stink thing to say. But it’s the truth of how I heard it.
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