One might compare jazz to the style of football played in England. Obviously that’s not a perfect analogy, but please stay for an explanation! Firstly, what happened in the Sixties in both jazz and English football was acclaimed but even then some people either struggled to really understand the game and the music at a fairly basic level or didn’t have any interest in them. Furthermore, for the most part the genre of jazz has, like the English national football team, been playing in the background rather than leading the way and grabbing the listener by the ears in recent years, even with a loyal and in the grand scheme of things fairly large following – one that is very large in some countries. With the birth of rock music and Brazillian and continental football the two groups arguably underachieved in comparison to teams of people and styles of play they were essential to the development thereof. Of course, it cannot be reasonably said that jazz is never interesting and at times superior to its children, but just as the style of football played by the English national team is usually just not the same in terms of pure excitement as several other national teams, the same can be said of jazz in comparison to rock music.
What distinguishes excellent-sounding good jazz from most other jazz that this reviewer has heard is that it is genuinely fascinating – not necessarily throughout but for the most part at least. A musician might exhibit plenty of skill but if such abilities are not presented in a captivating way, the music is severely handicapped. Indeed, as is the case in lots of punk rock, a charismatic presence or way of conveying a mood or message through music can make up for a lack of skill.
However, Badbadnotgood do not seem inept. The thing that is, initially at least, most striking about Badbadnotgood’s third studio album III is that its compositions do not drag on for too long with seemingly directionless noodling or just plain tedium, except for perhaps ‘Eyes Closed’ and ‘Hedron’ which felt at some points like filler when compared to the other tracks. However, that these tracks can be judged to be so even though they have more genuine excitement in it than a lot of jazz and rock does is an indication of how good the album is.
There is nothing wrong with some elements staying samey, even if the duration of this sameness is the length of the entire song. The respective bass lines of U2’s ‘With Or Without You’ and Radiohead’s ‘The National Anthem’ are examples of fine repetition that to some extent make the songs of which they are a part so great. Also, how good would hundreds of rock compositions be if bands only played the songs’ main riffs once or a few times?
One thing that such repetitions are particularly good at is building tension, as on the Mogwai-esque spookiness of ‘Can’t Leave The Night’. That song, which seems indebted in some ways to DJ Shadow’s early work, has enough moodiness to rival trip-hop, enough bounce to challenge mainstream hip-hop and enough power to match hard rock. The track is preceded by ‘Triangle’, a number over which you could imagine Mos Def dropping rhymes. The song also features drums that hit harder than those of a RZA track, as again the band blur the lines between hip-hop and jazz. This collection exhibits much variety elsewhere too. The band are joined by saxophonist Leland Whitty for the spy-movie-like ‘Confessions’ which, like ‘Kaleidoscope’, is by turns creepy and uplifting. The latter and the track that comes after it, ‘Eyes Closed’, feature great-sounding bass.
After ‘Hedron’ comes the seventh track, ‘Differently, Still’: the first on the album to sound like Fifties-and-Sixties-style jazz with its echoes of Kind Of Blue pianist Bill Evans’ sound. ‘Since You Asked Kindly’ displays excellent drumming reminiscent of Dave King’s performance on The Bad Plus’ rendition of Pixies’ ‘Velouria’. As well as this, the composition sounds like a Nintendo video game soundtrack thanks to its synthesized bass line and upbeat tempo. The song is arguably too ‘commercial’ or, like other tracks in some ways, too ‘simplistic’ for some people, whereas, like ‘Can’t Leave The Night’, the rather complex variety of ‘CS60’ – in which tension gives way to bounciness-without-cheesiness, a cycle which repeats and builds further – gives us a grand finale, a late minute winner in an album which is probably almost as good, if not just as brilliant as or better than, any given World Cup final.