Friday, June 15, 2007

Yesterday's New Quintet - Yesterday's Universe


It’s hard work for the casual observer, trying to keep pace with Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet project as it sprays albums from Stones Throw Records' Oxnard, California base. In a nutshell, the quintet is a jazz combo consisting of musicians Joe McDuphrey, Ahmad Miller, Monk Huges, Malik Flavors and Otis Jackson Jr. Except it's not, really. Even though each of the above musicians has released a solo jazz project via Stones Throw in the last five years there's only one face to put to all of them. Have you guessed it's Madlib yet?

Which, frankly, given the Beat Konducta's prolific work rate - currently readying for release tracks for Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu, an album for Percee P, a Jaylib-style collaboration LP with Karriem Riggins, an instrumental beat album called "Beat Konducta in India" - is simply exhausting to contemplate. Obviously those special herbs don't keep him in bed until lunchtime, like the rest of us.

It's worth noting that Madlib and his brother, producer/emcee Oh No come from an illustrious family of musicians. Their father was 70s soul singer Otis Jackson (who has the sort of name that sounds like you should of heard before, though we're not sure we have). And their uncle, Jon Faddis, was a jazz trumpeter who played with Charlie Mingus amongst others.

"Yesterday's Universe" marks the consolidation of all Madlib's jazz styles into one LP and features contributions from 'real' musicians Karriem Riggins (pictured) on drums and Azymuth's Ivan Conti (aka Mamão), also on drums.

"Two For Strata East", referencing the 70s label that released music from Pharoah Sanders as well as somewhat misfit masterpiece "Winter In America" by Gil Scott-Heron, hints at his affection for the afro-jazz of Sanders and labels like Impulse! A more complete tribute comes in the form of the superb "Cold Days And Rainy Nights" on which Madlib enlists every chime, swirl and percussive trick in the book of Sun-Ra to evoke that weightless blissout so brilliantly summarised on Soul Jazz's old "Universal Sound Of America" compilation. He does Brazilian jazz fusion with Conti on "Upa Neguinho" and funky Hammond jazz with a track attributed to Sound Directions, the project he's frequently trotted out for Blaxploitation party grooves. And that’s just scratching the surface really.

Utterly virtuoso then, but no less confusing. "Yesterday's Universe" provides us with a handy compact guide to the distinct styles/monikers of the Madlib jazz invasion; a loving homage to the old jazz vanguard and full ark of crate-digger’s progress in which the student becomes the teacher.

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