(Stones Throw/Madlib Invazion)
Is he a hip-hop or jazz artist? Yes, would be the answer. Madlib, a notorious workaholic, beatsmith, and music fan, would prefer to leave all classifications behind. He also prefers to keep his attention solely on the music, rarely taking the time to do an interview. I had reached out to Egon from Stones Throw back in November of 2010 about doing an interview with Madlib for The Revivalist but was politely declined. To hear what Madlib has to say, in essence, we need to listen to his music.
In (mostly) keeping true with the intent of the series to feature new works in the odd-numbered releases in the Medicine Show series (the even-numbered releases are mixtapes), we get a host of jazz-infused offerings from the multitude of Madlib-led configurations (aliases?) of bands. Started off by a shortened instrumental cover of sped-up cover of the Donald Byrd classic “Stepping Into Tomorrow,” it’s considerably a different approach than he took on his remix/rework of the track for his Shades Of Blue project for Blue Note. Featuring less boom-bap drums than the remix project, the kit work here has a more galloping feel. Meanwhile the lead melodies are played by electric pianos instead of the typical trumpet.
Generation Match, one of the many side projects on the set, also does some more experimental jazz with “Electronic Dimensions.” It’s a track that builds and features what sounds like sped-up conversations on top of a wonky and jungle-like jazz. It’s a theme he continues on “Tarzan’s Theme” by The Big Black Foot Band featuring The Black Spirits. Tribal percussion underlays the song while somber piano chords trounce around before a vocal track floats in sounding like it came from a Black Panther rally shouting, “Speak monkey, speak!” giving it the feel of a Gil Scott Heron performance.
There are numerous works featuring Kareem Riggins, highly regarded drummer, and James Poyser, experienced keys man and producer, on bands such as Jahari Massamba Unit and RMC. The former contributes one track on the album and another on the bonus EP, which follows through in its arrangement as the song would imply. The progression of the melody continues to slide down the charts. The best song by the trio (inconspicuously named Poyser, Riggins & Jackson), however, is “Funky Butt,” a rousing track that features an aggressive bass track while Poyser performs a jaunty rhythm on keys.
High Jazz doesn’t necessarily come off as being an album where hip hop influences jazz, although perhaps the feeling is that it should since Madlib is typically thought of as a hip hop producer. Clearly, though, if you’ve followed his many projects, he’s an adept artist who can jump through different genres with seemingly little effort. Instead, it’s an album where we get to marvel at just how talented Madlib is. He can put on a different hat, and we can enjoy it for different reasons than when we listen to his hip hop beat tapes. And maybe with that line of thought, we can simply think of High Jazz as a jazz tape where some ideas are more fleshed out than others.
Words by Eric Luecking