Sometimes, it can be hard to define the feeling you get when listening to an instrumental jazz album — when I review them, I leave them ambiguous enough for the reader to interpret for themselves. For years, it has been a topic of conversation with myself — about how I can recommend music of this nature without using simplistic verbiage about the sounds. But it has never stopped me from expressing how these pieces of work make me feel. So despite this bothersome quandary, BADBADNOTGOOD is an artist that has been easy to recommend — specifically, because of early releases that blended freeform jazz within performances of covers and original productions. After a few LPs of this and more hip-hop-oriented projects, BADBADNOTGOOD is letting their fingers ride the back of a magical whim on their new album Talk Memory.
Though their style isn’t rare for fans, their freeform shifts from the original instrumentation have been a calling card, and it appears minimally on Talk Memory. Some more prevalent songs have been ones that honed in on popular songs and other mixes, like their blending of “Mass Appeal” by Gang Starr and “Transmission” by Joy Division. They aren’t as freeform on the Talk Memory, like past work, and instead, having production keep a steady focus on its overarching themes.
After the departure of Matthew Tavares, I began to think if the band could retain synchronization between the horn and string arrangements, which below with consistency. Tavares’ piano playing and arrangements brought a melancholic glue between the sections, allowing for fluidity after the post-production. As Talk Memory plays, it dawns on me that without Tavares, you can hear some limitations. However, other instrumentalists, like Karriem Riggins, Brandee Younger, and Arthur Cortes Verocai, connect the dots after the rough start. “Signal from the Noise” speaks to the title’s nature — the trio connects string and horn arrangements in archaic fashion, focusing heavily on the noise. In some aspects, it acts like the distorted noise of your visual screen before the instrumentations that follow take you through a non-perilous journey with your mind and various emotions.
As the music begins to divulge into auspicious arrangements that focus on whimsy that envelope memories — think of a film and how the vibrant transition effect tells us what we are viewing is a memory — your emotions begin to heighten with the sonic concoction of the song’s sequences. It, further, plays to the title focus of the songs, especially in the sounds that influence it. These song titles make it a central point that each name is transitional through the sounds we are given, like on “City of Mirrors,” which flows from melancholy to rampart bleakness in the harsh percussion and horn instruments two-thirds through. These songs have steady progression where our memories reflect and split between the nuances and the sudden unease from the modest-archaic trumpets and percussion, adding different elements to the album.
Sometimes, the progression doesn’t sound archaic and instead carries an elegance to each transition from the strings, piano, and horn arrangements — notably in the song “Beside April” and its reprise. Legendary Jazz musician Arthur Vorecai’s control of the string arrangements adds to the twinkly and subtle low-string notes that beautifully contrast the focused percussion from Karriem Riggins. Throughout the album, it speaks more to the bass and acoustics, as opposed to rhythm guitars. Arthur Vorecai’s arrangements are the prominent highlights of the five songs he is on, like the previously mentioned “City of Mirrors” and the sexy-lounge influenced “Love Proceeding.” It continues the preconceived thought about the songs, as the sounds continue to envelop the meaning of the titles.
“Timid, Intimidating” mirrors the terms in the production as it transitions from somber string arrangements to the intimidating and loud percussion and horns, letting the chaos ensues once again. It plays before the calming effects of the reprise to “Beside April” as a transitional melody toward the final song, “Talk Memory.” It delivers a conclusion with a song that sounds like a personification of everything we’ve heard throughout the album, combining a mixture of organized arrangements and freeform playing. You’re left wondering how it fits naturalistically for them, as the music is constantly shifting tonally — becoming an afterthought as it leaves you in awe.
However, throughout the album, the songs are equivocal to the feelings that derive from one’s journey through their memory, which contain aspects of fear, love, and depression, to name a few. Though parts aren’t as contained, BADBADNOTGOOD modestly shows who they are without Tavares. He was a glue to the group, and Leland Witty does a good job filling his presence on these songs, but without the help of other instrumentalists, it seems like they may have had some limits on where they could have gone.
I’m a moderate proponent of Talk Memory in it that it does what it intends to without feeling like they have to be PERFECT. The music will speak differently to some, despite a unified front from the production. It is where you go from here that you’ll be left wondering how much of it resonated with you and what you dreamt amidst listening to it. It took me through my journey, as it will with you, and it speaks marvels to where they are with this as opposed to the less refined and more explorative music of the past.