There are feathers flying on Facebook regarding the NOW Magazine article on Toronto hip-hop instrumental trio BADBADNOTGOOD. Thanks to Peter Hum's more cogent analysis, the attention on the article is spread, more generally, around the Internet. I first saw mention of this on Brownman's Facebook wall, and I weighed in alongside current Toronto players like Rich Brown. Brownman posited a "live-and-let-live" approach; regardless of what we may feel about their musicianship, allow these kids to "criticize their environment," as he says, and make music they believe in. At the time of my posting, I had not read the NOW article. I have... *ahem*... now. Below is an edited and expanded version of what I posted on Facebook.
I first saw and heard BBNG at a J Dilla tribute event at Le Belmont co-presented by The Goods and Music Is My Sanctuary. My beef with their set was that I didn't get the sense that they understand the tradition
of what they're playing. Not necessarily the "jazz" tradition as taught by any
number of schools, but the tradition of groove-based music, and the tradition of covers, i.e. playing a song with a
meaning. To go double-time rock freakout on Slum Village's "Fall In Love" either means you are just pulling out your musical tricks because you
can, or it means you've had some
really shitty relationships (which could very well be the case at 19). They also didn't seem to realize, or care, that they were booked on a
Dilla tribute bill and in a sold out room full of Dilla heads. To be
fair, a lot of people in the room were really digging it, but their set proved that they're a bit of a one-trick pony (or maybe a hog?) musically. And
yes, when I was 19, I believed that every tune had to crescendo to a
climax, too. The early days of Indigone Trio are evidence of this.
not entirely sure what the environment at Toronto's Humber College, BBNG's alma mater, is like, but I look at
the schools here and I see two major issues:
1) a lot of the profs are
ill-equipped to talk about the post-Dilla rhythmic and harmonic
language, not to mention anything more "avant-garde" such as the AACM or Cecil Taylor. Therefore, if students are interested in music beyond the
common-practice bebop/post-bop/mainstream jazz language, they run into walls
trying to get their questions answered.
2) I don't see students getting
reality checks about what leading a life in music is really like, and
what creative musicianship really entails, both in school and in the outside world. Having guys like Brownman and pianist Gordon Webster school me at the Rex when I was 15 really got me ahead of
the game, in terms of how to be a humble musician and how to act on and off the bandstand. I don't see that kind of mentorship happening as much anymore - I see a lot of students either disinterested in the school environment, burnt out, and/or not held accountable for their behaviour in ensembles and in the classroom. There's little sense of realistic expectations, not just of musicianship, but of "the hang." I'm guilty of it too - I don't hang out at jam sessions much anymore, but I do try to pay my experience forward.
We need to read the BBNG article for what it is - three jazz school dropouts full of piss and vinegar, running the scene for the time being, playing with their idols and heroes and having microphones shoved in their faces. I agree with the sentiment prevailing on Brown's wall, that we can and should give them their space and their soapbox, but also give them the reality check of how to create a supportive community of artists. When the BBNG fame subsides, will these guys be able to get a gig outside of their own project? It remains to be seen. I hold far more hope for young guns like Kris Bowers, the 22-year-old Monk competition winner holding court with José James and Jay-Z, who's still a humble cat.