For anyone interested in jazz, funk and hip-hop done to the highest order, the Ogden Theatre was the place to be this past Wednesday night when Canadian quartet BadBadNotGood and local funk crew Other Black descended for an evening of diverse tracks founded on a deep commitment to the groove. Both groups performed a distinctly different set — each informed by the above genres, but drastically different in approach, aesthetics and sound. While BadBadNotGood took the jazz-quartet formula and delivered formidable interpretations of a wide range of hard-hitting genres, Other Black came through with originality and charisma rare for an opening act.
Local legend Wesley Watkins has clearly made several visits to the mothership. Utilizing his impressive vocal range and winning stage presence, the eccentric frontman made frequent homages to Parliament-Funkadelic, delivering sermons in a deep baritone then quickly leaping to a helium-infused enunciation. Backed by a solid outfit of a drummer, percussionist, bassist, keyboardist, guitarist, saxophonist and a three-piece female vocal ensemble — Watkins commanded the stage. Standing well over six feet and sporting a top hat and a flowing red evening gown, the singer was indeed a sight to behold. Vocal styles reminiscent of Andre 3000, Chance the Rapper and George Clinton himself were belted with enough sincerity and skill that it never felt like imitation. On top of that the band was incredibly tight — playing with clear chemistry and seasoned professionalism they quickly bounced from feel-good funk to tremendous hip-hop with dexterity and grace.
BadBadNotGood’s stage presence was an unusual contrast. With Other Black’s personnel taking up the majority of the Ogden’s fairly sizable platform, the Canadian quartet looked sparse by comparison. But as the foursome got down to business it was clear that their sound was anything but. Hailing from Ontario the group has an impressive resume, having collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt, the group also went on to release a full collaborative album with Ghostface Killah. With drums, keys, bass and saxophone the group revealed their deep commitment to the game — finding authenticity in a genre that boasts few Canadian jazz quartets. Impressive skill was met with equally zealous fans — the front section erupted into a mosh pit even during one of the sets softer numbers.
The incredible virtuosity of all the players allowed for a great deal of range — so much so that at times the performance felt unfocused. Each musician made very clear that they could likely play nearly every type of music with their eyes closed, and while a dynamic style is clearly part of their approach, the show could have used just a touch more cohesion.
The serious talent of the night was met in equal measure by jokes and showmanship. It was drummer Alexander Sowinski’s birthday and the obligatory audience-wide singing of Happy Birthday was joined by a half-dozen playful riffs of the song peppered throughout the remainder of the set — each rendition more painfully cheesy than the last. Prior to the encore, a cake was brought out to great acclaim — highlighting the clear fact that above all the virtuosos were at the end of the day friends having a good time. Each act clearly brought their A-game, with Watkin’s indomitable star power being a hard act to follow.