US - California - Full Moon 83 - 07/13/03
Shades Of Blue: Madlib Invades 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