IV by youthful Canadian jazz outfit BadBadNotGood was one of the standout albums of 2016, expanding their take on modern jazz in innovative and wide-ranging directions and making such an impression that BBC 6 Music made it their album of the year (quite revealing given they’re generally not the biggest risk-takers when deciding on things like this). It boasted an impressive list of collaborators – saxophonist Colin Stetson, in-demand producer Kaytranada, Future Islands frontman Sam Herring and US rapper Mick Jenkins. Recreating this live therefore was always going to be challenging and in the end it was to prove a gig of mixed results.
They start with tracks from previous album III, establishing their loose-limbed, athletic sound and breezy, Chick Corea-tinted transatlantic grooves. The capacity crowd respond positively, encouraged by band leader Alexander Sowinski who directs pumped-up vocal exhortations from behind his drum kit throughout. The first we hear from IV is the psychedelic soul-jazz of Speaking Gently, all splashes of fluorescent colour and heightened melody. Leland Whitty swaps his saxophone for flute to impressive effect on this and does likewise on the spacious, restrained And That, Too.
Yet, small signs creep in that pull the show down a little. On occasion they try to grow and fill out the tracks but quite often these extensions only serve to weaken overall, disrupting and causing momentum to be lost. There are times also where they could definitely benefit from the volume being turned up. It’s evident on the spacey Lavender which in places feels a little muted, and the overly quick drumming gives the impression they might be trying a little too hard (something they don’t need to do). They release an inflatable dolphin into the crowd midway through and take turns to have little lie downs mid-track on the sofa positioned in the centre of the stage, adding more in the way of distraction than anything else.
On the positive side Charlotte Day Wilson appears on stage to provide vocals on the sumptuous In Your Eyes (she had earlier impressed as support with her bassy, beat-laden soul). Confessions Pt II is full of bold, confident, incisive sax forays, while Chompy’s Paradise changes tack, offering a melancholic interlude. It’s easy to forget that they’re still a young band, and for an instrumental ensemble of this age to be selling out venues like the Forum is genuinely impressive. Importantly, the crowd’s reaction is unequivocal – they love it and generate a rapturous atmosphere.
Rapper Little Simz joins them at end to boost the energy levels even higher, and also provide a reminder of how they seamlessly incorporate a wider range of styles into their sound. They finish with the exploded minimalist rhythms of CS60 – the show may have had moments of inconsistency but this ensures they go out on a real high.