Madlib Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note

It started out as a joke. Stones Throw head Peanut Butter Wolf was on the horn to a honcho at Blue Note enamoured with Madlib’s jazz alter ego Yesterday’s New Quintet and suggested the Beat Conductor get unlimited access to the Blue Note vaults. To his surprise, the request was granted and Madlib got to work. Employing the approach of either doing his own cover version or remixing tracks, Madlib delivers his personal take on the revered jazz label’s voluminous history. While his beginnings are as a hip-hop producer/MC, most of Madlib’s own record collection is jazz and here he focuses on soul jazz and jazz-funk material from the ’60s and ’70s. The intersection between hip-hop and jazz becomes apparent in the reworking of "Mystic Brew” by Ronnie Foster; it’s an oft-sampled track, but Madlib isn’t only out to pique crate-diggers ears. On an original track "Funky Blue Note,” Madlib under yet another identity, the Morgan Adams Quartet Plus Two, shows how his own jazz compositions are improving, his spacy drums sounding more precise than the intentionally sloppy stick work on YNQ material. While he also covers material by figures such as Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver carefully, he’s a lot looser on his remix efforts. Case in point is the album highlight, a remix of Donald Byrd’s "Steppin' Into Tomorrow.” Madlib strips away Byrd’s trumpet, bumps the track up a few BPMs, beefs up the bottom end and pushes background vocals to the fore. The results are stunning. While Shades of Blue doesn’t possess the creative abandon Madlib usually invests in his projects, his reverence for the label probably plays a part here. By including shout-outs from jazz musicians and devoting interludes to the label’s founders, it’s quite obvious on this impressive release that despite the project’s origins, he’s serious about the music. (Blue Note)