Yesterday’s New Quintet (Madlib) Yesterdays Universe: Prepare for a New Yesterday (Vol. 1)

[Stone’s Throw; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: jazz, fusion
Others: Albert Ayler, DJ Rels, Digable Planets

When I none-too-coincidentally crossed paths with a none-too-sober Madlib at SXSW last year, I felt compelled to ask about the most enigmatic one of his alter-egos, the jazz “ensemble” Yesterday’s New Quintet. “Man, we always workin’ on some new shit,” he chortled. Not to get all Seinfeldian, but his emphasis on the collective “we” instead of just about any other word in the response is telling. Otis Jackson Jr., quite possibly the world’s most prolific stoner, is indeed always workin’ on some new shit. Seriously. Do I really need to check off his production credits in that insultingly incredulous “Did you know the fellows from Madvillian have great stuff of their own, too?” kind of way? You’re grown up enough to navigate these Internets, I trust.

But back to that pesky pronoun. Madlib is a fiend for, and indeed thrives on, collaboration, even if it’s all in his head. Whether he’s engaging in otherworldly jibes with Quasimoto or rapping over a J Dilla beat, Madlib is at his best when he’s able to bounce his noodly, smoked-out musings off of another person(a). Hence, the put-upon façade of collectivity (and hilarious anecdotes about Madlib and Quasimoto double-teaming the former’s nonexistent wifey). But jazz’s call-and-response mechanism isn’t as readily apparent as that of hip-hop, which can make describing jazz’s collaborative process a bit of a thorny ordeal. That’s what makes Madlib-as-Yesterday’s New Quintet so compelling: While hip-hop groups with jazz roots abound, YNQ turn that dynamic on its head, reconciling a rapper’s predilection for give-and-take with a jazzman’s cerebral insularity.

It’s not even entirely accurate to say that Yesterdays Universe: Prepare for a New Yesterday (Vol. 1) is an album by Yesterday’s New Quintet. The members of that fictional ensemble have disbanded and reconvened here as an assemblage of side projects and solo efforts. Back in reality, it’s mostly Madlib’s Universe, with the help of real-life percussionists Karriem Riggins and Ivan “Mamao” Conti. Madlib’s obsession with alter-egos might come off as gimmicky if he didn’t ascribe each its own richly realized sound. The Otis Jackson Jr. trio, for example, bound along on rubbery synth effects and propulsive breakbeats (“Free Son”), while The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble opt for piano-based rhythms punctuated by sitar plucks (“Cold Nights and Rainy Days”). Conti’s drumming takes center stage alongside bossa nova brass on “Upa Neguinho” and again on “Barumba (L.Eca, Bebeto),” a Tropicália-tinged flight of fancy. Madlib is still susceptible to those ambling and languid stretches of experimentation (as on the interminable “Vibes from the Tribes Suite”), but he at least attempts to hold your interest with shifting tempos.

Throughout Universe, though, the palette of sounds Madlib draws from is bewitching in ways entirely different than 2006’s characteristically sample-driven Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes. Even YNQ’s first proper album, Angles Without Edges, seemed too confined by its progenitor’s fascination with the electric piano. Universe refreshingly displays Madlib’s ear for jazz melodies and the myriad ways hip-hop can deconstruct them. And if this latest incarnation of Yesterday’s New Quintet is any indication, he’s unlikely to run out of either anytime soon.

1. Otis Jackson Jr Trio - Bitches Brew (M. Davis)
2. The Jahari Massamba Unit featuring Karriem Riggins Trio - Umoja (Unity)
3. Young Jazz Rebels - Slave Riot (D. Smith)
4. The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble - One for the Monica Lingas Band
5. Kamala Walker and The Soul Tribe - Street Talkin'
6. The Jazzistics - Marcus, Martin & Malcolm
7. Suntouch - Two for Strata East
8. Sound Directions - She's Gonna Stay
9. The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble - Cold Nights And Rainy Days
10. Otis Jackson Jr Trio - Free Son
11. Jackson Conti - Barumba (L.Eca, Bebeto)
12. Ahmad Miller - Sunny C (California)
13. The Eddie Prince Fusion Band - Mtume's Song
14. Yesterday's Universe All Stars - Vibes from the Tribes Suite (For Phil)
15. Jackson Conti - Upa Neguinho

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