I first encountered Bad Bad Not Good’s music through Jamie Cullum’s jazz show on Radio Two soon after the release of their album “III”. The trio of Matthew Tavares on keyboard, Chester Hansen on bass and Alex Sowinski on drums were playing something new and exciting, deeply rooted in jazz, but blended with hip-hop rhythms to create something upbeat, and deeply funky. It’s the kind of music that slips unnoticed past that bit of your conscious mind that’s focussed on listening to the music heading for, then gently subverting that bit of subconscious mind that controls “head bobbing in time to the music” and “funky shoulder dancing” so that before you know it’s even happening you’re starting to move to the music. So when the chance came up to see Bad Bad Not Good play Rough Trade East to celebrate the launch of their new album “IV” Lampy and I jumped at it!
One on the first things we noticed as I helped Lampy get the power-bricks up and running is that Bad Bad Not Good have become more numerous – somewhere between “III” and “IV” they’ve gained another musician, Leland Whitty, accompanied by his rather beautiful and photogenic saxophone sitting on its stand centre-stage. The only microphone set up is for Alex on drums at the back of the stage. Matthew’s keyboard is set up on the right of the stage facing in towards the centre of the stage. Chester’s bass leans against the amp on the left of the stage. It is a minimalist set up without loads of kit cluttering the stage and it’s clear that Chester and Leland will have plenty of room to move. It’s also a set up that allows all the musicians to face each other and read each other as they play.
The set kicks off to a cover of Norah Jones’ “Run Away With Me” lead by Matthew’s beautifully precise keys and preceded by wry conspiratorial smiles between the bandmates. As the tune is picked up by each member of the band in turn the crowd was suddenly transported to some dark, smokey underground jazz bar found down a poorly lit Brooklyn side-street where jazz standards are played by anonymous, but incredibly good musicians playing for the love of what is a quintessentially North-American art form. The joke is on the audience. It’s not what you’d expect from listening to Bad Bad Not Good’s recorded music, but as the first tune ends and the music transitions from perfectly executed jazz standard to something altogether more funky, thickly saturated with deep hip-hop grooves, that first song becomes an emphatic demonstration of the skill this band possesses, and a serious nod to the roots of the music that Bad Bad Not Good go on to play.
It’s a cracking set and judging by the smiles and exuberance with which the band plays, it’s clear that the band are enjoying themselves too. This is fresh and exciting stuff. Bad Bad Not Good play with their music, each taking a turn improvising their take on a chorus before returning to the track you’d hear on the album (another nod to more traditional jazz structure). Leland’s alto saxophone brings a wonderful richness and depth to the music making a very worthy addition to the band’s sound.
As I was working through my photos I realised it was possible to read the makers details of Leland’s sax. For all those instrument geeks out there, it’s a P.Mauriat System 76 2nd Edition… Named for a French orchestra leader who had a hit in the sixties and although emblazoned with the word “Paris” this horn originates, somewhat paradoxically in Taiwan. A little googling finds that the richness in sound is due to a slightly expanded bore and bell of the horn compared to a standard alto sax and that vintage look, which is all about the lacquer, hides a thoroughly modern instrument. Further googling reveals that some musicians absolutely love this horn, its vintage styling and warm, rich sound, especially on the lower notes, whereas others are less much less impressed and are scathing about build quality and preferring the sound from other brands. I’m not an expert in any way, shape, or form on the saxophone, but it struck me that these observations communicate an interesting parallel between music and photography – it seems that in both worlds the question of what kit is “Best” is equally as divisive and becomes equally as tribal. In the end though, the kit only gets you in the game, it’s what you (the artist!) do with it that matters and that’s where knowing your kit, its limits and what it’s great at, becomes really important. Leland made some incredible music with his System 76 and appeared to have a great time doing it. Similarly every time I work back through my photos after I shoot a band, or discover a new and exciting menu buried deep in the operating system of my camera, I get to know the quirks of my kit better. Is my Pentax the “Best” camera for taking photos of live music? Probably not (will depend who you ask of course!) but I’m discovering and developing my shooting style as I become more familiar and confident with it. I enjoy using it and it does the job. I’m not saying I can make my Pentax “sing” like Leland’s sax, but when I get some good shots that for me at least capture the mood of a performance I start to feel that I am heading in the right direction and that the practice and perseverance is all worthwhile.
Rough Trade East – 26/06/2016