Bad Bad Not Good : The Only Jazz Trio You Will Ever Mosh To

Bad Bad Not Good. M for Montreal. Photo Ella Elbourne. Bad Bad Not Good. M for Montreal. Photo Ella Elbourne.

I think I can safely say that BadBadNotGood is the only jazz trio I will ever mosh to.

The Toronto-based group, composed of Matthew Tavares on keys, Chester Hansen on electric bass, and Alexander Sowinski on drums, are not like any jazz band you’ve ever heard before. Having met while studying at Humber College, they apparently bonded over a mutual love for hip hop, and (allegedly) a disdain for the snobbish direction music can take when formally studied in school.

What has appeared as a result is a highly unusual and oddly seamless combination of catchy, grimy hip hop beats, and virtuosic jazz solos as technically brilliant as any I would expect to hear from a given typically trained, standard jazz group.

Last week, the trio played as at the SAT in the context of a night of hip hop for the music festival M for Montreal. The room, equipped with smoke-machines and flashy lights effects, its cement floors riddled with beer cups, and its crowd, mainly early twenties, mainly drunk, was a far cry from intimate Montreal jazz rooms typically associated with the genre, like Upstairs or l’Astral.

BBNG. Photo Emma Elbourne. M for Montreal

BBNG. Photo Emma Elbourne. M for Montreal

This is fitting, I suppose – BadBadNotGood is not your typical jazz trio.

As they emerged, no microphones in hand with which to rap with, a saxophone onstage ready for guest musician Leland Whitty, there was more than one confused look in the audience. They were quickly appeased, however, as soon as the first hard-hitting, rhythmic groove got going from the bass and the drums, and were already dancing by the time Matthew got started with a theme from the keyboards.

Most of their tunes went something like this: catchy, repetitive theme to get us dancing, building anticipation cued by the drums, in the midst of which an insanely fast solo would be played on bass, keyboard, or saxophone, until they had us jumping and pushing and cheering in a frenzy by the end of the song. Then maybe a few seconds to catch our breath before they were off again.

Basically, the majority of the set was focused on one thing and one thing only: buildup. Some might consider it a cheap trick, but these three have fine-tuned the trick to perfection, and combine it with just enough brilliant musicality in their solos to make it a work of art. Chester’s electronic bass solos were particularly impressive, complex musically and yet somehow fitting for the quasi-mosh pit developing in front of the stage.

While not the most nuanced of shows, it was perfectly appropriate for the venue, the event, and the public they were faced with. And while purists might scoff at their untraditional approach to the musical style, I couldn’t help but think of the earlier origins of the form of jazz we know and love today – crowded swing clubs, drunken dancing – when it comes to the true spirit of jazz, maybe BadBadNotGood is onto something.

We interviewed BadBadNotGood previously HERE.