For all his musings into the jazz genre, Madlib’s side project Yesterdays’ New Quintet has yielded uneven work. From the onset of the “band” in 2001, we heard the beautiful “Sunrays” and trippy “Elle’s Theme,” but over the course of the next few years their output started to diversify. The idea of Yesterday’s New Quintet itself is promising, but its execution doesn’t always live up.
The year 2004 saw more than one album in tribute to legends of the soul and jazz world. One was reincarnations of Stevie Wonder’s storied career (which actually had promo copies that were available two years prior). The other was an album more in honor of than it was of actual cover material. With song titles ranging from “A Piece For Brother Weldon,” “Irvine’s Vine,” and “Welldone.” it becomes pretty apparent that indeed this was a piece is indeed To Brother Weldon.
The music itself, somewhat freeform, has enough structure to not be ambiguous. On the closing chapter, “The Beginning, The Middle, & The End,” that ideal is stretched. Passages collide to form a seventeen minute opus, varying with degrees of success. The Middle section muddies with drums that get off track and swirling keys that soon follow. The dissonant segment is something that even Star Wars’ Cantina Band couldn’t have imagined spacey jazz reaching this level. Conversely, The Beginning section starts out with a few Rhodes riffs that are melodious and touching.
While the songs themselves can overextend their welcome, the flow of the album in segueing between tracks is one of the albums strong points. The wind-like effect created by the cymbals in the end of “A Piece For Brother Weldon” that lead into “Irvine’s Vine” are a perfect introduction for the development of the latter track. It stirs into motion a bevy of instruments including Fender Rhods and organs that beget rat-a-tat snare.
In the cleverly titled “Still Young, Gifted, & Broke,” an homage to Irvine’s lyric writing for the Nina Simone classic, YNQ introduces vibraphone to enhance the mood. The drumkit is all over the place and sounds like a weed fiend’s paranoia gone amok. Just when the paranoia overtakes you, a pleasing bass enters to bring a sense of rhythmic semblance back in order. This again is another example of the excellent segues that mastermind Madlib concocts to string the album along to a full listening experience.
However, the ideas alluded to in the songs more often than not would be better in shorter versions and more concise as a shorter overall work (an EP). It’s like a movie that runs 45 minutes too long. Intent doesn’t always lead to a fulfilling content. With A Tribute To Brother Weldon, it would have been more advisable to cover the honoree’s work with the same spirit than to try to create new works that too often fall short. Madlib’s respect for Irvine and love for jazz can’t always save the album, and too often it’s confused for trying to do so.
Words by Eric Luecking