Talk Memory, the fifth studio album from Toronto jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD, phones home to many of the band’s influences and past greats in the genre such as Sun Ra and Charlie Parker. Very much an old-timer’s jazz album, the production isn’t particularly as forward as expected but that hardly detracts from any sense of quality. Lots of satisfyingly melodic jazz passages and fusions in conjunction with some amazing features, not the least of which is Brazilian jazz savant Arthur Verocai, propel the album to interesting emotional peaks for the band.
Being their first album in 5 years, and coming after the departure of keyboardist Matthew Tavares to pursue a solo career, the band has tagged in frequent collaborator Leland Whitty in an attempt to recalibrate their sound and pay homage to their roots. The ubiquity of specifically jazz-rock fusions speaks to this on tracks like Signal From the Noise and Beside April, the former of which opens with a harrowing swell of feedback and dour piano akin to something you might hear in more modern horror films or even, if to stretch a bit, something more in the cyberpunk realm like Blade Runner.
Led by bass and absolutely hammered with feedback, the beginning of “Signal From the Noise” evokes the feeling of a survivor trudging through a theatre of war in the fields of some post-occupation country. Bleak, languid, a wrought wasteland that seems to have rejected all semblance of life. Hold this pace until the three-minute mark, where a drum fill spurs us into double-time and as if to say “Keep going, you’re not done yet” (which can be further corroborated as a protagonist getting a signal through the static of the radio, to keep in line with the metaphor). An absolutely thrashing solo later, and we’re back just about where we started, but with a glimpse more hope than before thanks to some additional production from Floating Points, bringing things to somewhat of a psychedelic close.
Further pushing their fusion, though into somewhat of a funkier direction, comes “Beside April”. A love letter to Mahavishnu Orchestra that opens in 6/8 and takes its time settling you into that groove before revving the engines a bit. Karriem Riggins on additional drums (or drum, technically, as he’s quoted as just asking for a snare drum to participate) really elevates the track rhythmically and before long, you’re strapped into the cockpit and about to take flight as Whitty’s riffs absolutely tear through the sky. Supporting string selections from Verocai supplement a more gentle side of the track while maintaining the overall edge to make this track a true journey.
“Love Proceeding” is a Sunday morning drive. Sheer opulence decorating time for five and a half minutes straight. Another masterful composition from Verocai flirts with a sax melody to add a gentle sense of romance, and further romantic in the sense that Leland gets to interpolate a track that he had originally only been a feature on. The midpoint of the song opens up into an effervescent harmony between the string sections, clarinets, and the lilt of the bass in the back of the mix leading to a gentle surrender of the floor back to Whitty to not speak to us via saxophone, but articulate. The entire rest of the song is a musical conversation of these carefully woven and complex arrangements coalescing into what I can only describe as a twilight of violins.
While being somewhat divisive in its relatively inaccessible nature, Talk Memory’s vision and artistic direction serve as hallmarks to what the band can still bring to the table after so long and the departure of a founding member. A little something for the purists out there while still keeping consistent with their forward-thinking edge; something you can show your grandpa that won’t also relinquish aux cord privileges.