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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 83 - 07/13/03

Madlib
Shades Of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note
Blue Note

Founded by two German immigrants to New York in 1939, Blue Note has for decades represented a kind of black jazz hipster cool. Though its records have been graced by some of America's greatest jazz musicians, somehow the label's reputation has remained greater than that of any one artist. That place in the funky pantheon has been sealed in recent years by the raiding of Blue Note tracks - both obscure and classic - by the hip-hop generation. The breaks and grooves of Herbie Hancock, Reuben Wilson and Donald Byrd proved natural bait for the sharp-eared sample hunter, while Blue Note themselves have capitalised on this, releasing a series of compilations aimed at the 'you-know-the-break-now-hear-the-original' record buyer.

The subtitle of Madlib's Shades Of Blue, then, clearly states the record's aims to emulate this synergy of groove between jazz and hip-hop. And, at times, it's a satisfying bridge between the two, fusing the Californian producer's remixes of original tapes with re-recordings filtered through his hip-hop production. The beats are fresh, the grooves not limited to a couple of looped bars as with straight hip-hop, so tunes grow and evolve like their jazz templates. The contrast is most obvious on, surprise, a track called Funky Blue Note, which features frantic breakbeats and a meandering, flighty flute.

"Stepping Into Tomorrow", the great Donald Byrd track, is impressively updated over a muscular 7 minute-plus excursion. "Please Set Me At Ease" offers a different tempo, with MC M.E.D. laying rhymes over a squidgy, summer-madness beat.

The extent to which you enjoy this album, though, may depend on the strength of your purist tendencies. B-Boys may find it a bit desperate to impress, compared with the laid-back jazz assimilation of acts like A Tribe Called Quest. The minimal potential for real, authentic improvisation, though, will mean jazz fans may feel a little short changed. Ultimately, Madlib could be charged with wanting the best of both worlds, while falling between two stools.

If, however, you just fancy a great summer, head-nodding exploration of the most stylish, sophisticated forms of music around, you could do a whole lot worse than Shades Of Blue.

Copyright © 2003 James Caig e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Madlib article/review: The Beat Kunducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes.

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