In Review: BADBADNOTGOOD - Talk Memory

The Toronto jazz group's latest full-length flourishes from the strength of its guest appearances, and rewards as a result of re-listening.
Posted: 27 October 2021 Words: Caspar Latham

BADBADNOTGOOD’s latest studio album, Talk Memory, opens memorably with a track co-produced by Floating Points. Out of a haze of white noise and hissing cymbals, the sketched outlines of bass and melody emerge, assembling themselves haltingly from a drifting collection of sounds: synth, tremolo piano and distorted guitar lines. After an intrusion of rapid-fire jazz fusion percussion, the track fades away, retreating back into a diffuse landscape of nebulous sounds. 

The nine-minute opening 'Signal from the Noise' sets the scene for an album that draws together eclectic influences and as a result rewards re-listening. Alongside Arthur Verocai and Laraaji, the direct collaborators on this album, we can also hear shades of Pharoah Sanders, Wes Montgomery and even Miles Davis. 

After meeting at Humber College in Toronto and making their name by reinventing hip-hop tracks on their early albums BBNG1 and BBNG2, BADBADNOTGOOD's albums to date have been genre-spanning, over a career which has included collaborations with Ghostface Killah, Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator. Talk Memory draws on soul, electronic and Brazilian music as well as jazz, its inventive flourishes emerging most in its harmony and instrumentation. Leland Whitty’s saxophone is a defining feature of this, his playing ranging from rapid Coltrane-esque melodic flights over the skittering rhythms of 'Talk Meaning' to fluttering waves of arpeggios cast across the cavernously bewitching soundscape of 'Unfolding (Momentum 73)'. 

Ambient sounds emerging from Laraaji’s electric zither drift through the ether, an airspace conjured by heavy reverb and fine-tuned panning spacing the sounds around their listener. Even in the album’s still moments, its restlessness fails to subside entirely, sections of walking bass and intricate snare rhythms scattering themselves across the ambient plane. Only in Brandee Younger’s harp playing do we reach complete calm, as she lulls the album to a close with entrancing harp melodies rippling into silence.

The album owes a lot to the strength of the guest appearances, introduced in the wake of founding member Matthew Taveras’ departure from the band in 2019. 'Love Proceeding' emerges as a standout track, with a warm string section unmistakably evoking the signature sound of Brazilian composer and collaborator Arthur Verocai. After his debut album was largely ignored in 1972, Verocai gave up, producing advertising jingles for 30 years before his album achieved cult status in the 2000’s. His self-described blend of soul, samba and jazz can be felt equally strongly in the other two collaborations. 

The mellower guitar moments of 'Beside April' evoke Verocai’s beloved Wes Montgomery (who achieved a soft sound by playing only with his thumb), while 'City of Mirrors' features an eclectic combination of nostalgically cinematic string parts laid over driving drum beats and dissonant piano solos. At times, promising chord sequences and careful arrangements seem to get drowned under angular melodies and hammering drum fills that can occasionally feel jarring, but the latest creation of BADBADNOTGOOD is undeniably one of their finest. 

Talk Memory is out now via XL Recordings Ltd. / Innovative Leisure

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