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Review: Shades of Blue from Madlib

John Hilderbrand Avatar

MadlibHe’s known by different names in different genres – Quasimoto, Otis Jackson, Jr., and the entire band in Yesterdays New Quintet. The man is Madlib, a DJ, producer, rapper, and musician who has making a name for himself in clubs, hip-hop, and jazz over the last five years. Blue Note recently gave Madlib access to their mighty vaults and the result is Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note, the best fusion of classic material and contemporary funk, hip-hop, soul, jazz, and club vibes that has been released to date.

Madlib’s interest in jazz became apparent when he created Yesterdays New Quintet, a modern jazz “band” that was comprised of vibraphonist/psychiatrist Ahmad Miller, guitarist Malik Flavors, bassist/physicist Monk Hughes, pianist Joe McDuphrey, and drummer Otis Jackson Jr. All of those were actually Madlib, who learned to play live instruments instead of sampling others. YNQ’s Angles Without Edges CD featured Madlib’s originals in addition to covers of classics by Roy Ayers and Ramsey Lewis.

Digging into the Blue Note catalog was obviously a joy for Madlib, and it shows on Shades of Blue. Madlib adopts new identities (organist Morgan Adams III and DJ Lord Such) and performs almost of the new, live instrumentation himself. It’s not just a remix CD – Madlib breaks apart some of the classics by Donald Byrd, Horace Silver, and Wayne Shorter and reconstitutes them into a different piece of work. I’ve never heard Shorter’s “Footprints” like this. Sometimes the new configuration deserves a different title, as happens with Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” which gets added a little something to become “Mystic Bounce.” I love what he did to Reuben Wilson’s “Stormy.” If I could still run my Internet radio station, I’d be playing that in heavy rotation. Madlib pays tribute to the era of Blue Note he loves the most – the 1960s and 70s – with “Funky Blue Note,” a nice flute piece backed by some active drum work.

Shades of Blue is a fun album to listen to (or albums if you get the limited edition double LP). It’s rich in funk and based in jazz. It flows well with the interludes, which are remarks from some of the artists who are represented on the CD or comments about Blue Note’s history. It’s a project that can be enjoyed by everyone, though it’s not meant as a CD to expose today’s youth to jazz or today’s jazz fan to hip-hop. “Just trying to connect with the old heads and the young heads at once,” Madlib says. “But it’s not thought out like that. I do the music I want to hear.” Madlib and I are on the same page.

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