Review Summary: Madlib’s latest Jazz release is a great starting point for those curious about how his musical dexterity translates into a different genre.
Madlib is one of the most notorious characters in recent Hip-Hop history; a highly productive and acknowledged DJ, producer, and MC. Particularly interesting given Madlib’s copious number of releases thus far, however, is that quality has rarely been relegated. Predominantly, Madlib is recognized because of his collaboration with MF Doom, known together as Madvillain. The product of that collaboration, Madvillainy
, is considered by many to be a Hip-Hop classic. Unfortunately, as is the case with many artists who have received widespread critical acclaim for a particular piece of work, Madlib seems confined to the expectations of his listeners and the media. To clarify, Madlib receives much more attention when details emerge on Madvillain’s next album, than for any other reason. Such attitude is ill-advised in the case of a versatile, adroit musician like Madlib. This is because he has focused much of his ingenuity and prowess to convey music that surpasses the boundaries of Hip-Hop.
In one of his latest projects, Madlib, under the pseudonym Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, has decided to go deeper into the world of Jazz. Miles Away
is Madlib’s third release under said moniker. The album is relatively basic in terms of instrumentation; most songs are composed of drums, bass, organ, sitar, congas, and flute. The flow from each song to the next is subtle and smooth, to the extent that the album may feel like a single, large track. This does not imply that Miles Away
is a tedious listen. There are enough memorable moments in the album to constitute an enjoyable piece of background music. Every song in Miles Away
is driven for the most part by powerful bass lines and vigorous drums. Also noticeable throughout the album is the presence of Latin rhythms, most blatant in the beginning of "Derf", "Horace," and "Black Renaissance." In contrast to the more loop-oriented nature of Madlib’s instrumental Hip-Hop albums like, say, Medicine Show No. 3
, each track in Miles Away
is an amalgam of various melodies and some abrupt twists. "Shades of Phil" is perhaps the most kinetic track in the album, the song starts as a jam session, and slowly builds into a series of short raucous bursts of organ solos and drums. On the other hand, "The Trane & The Pharoah" exemplifies the most mellifluous side of the album. Another highlight is "Two Stories for Dwight," which has a delicately bleak tone guided by mesmerizing sitar harmonies.
is Madlib’s homage to both arcane and well-known Jazz musicians from the 60s and 70s. However, in the milieu of traditional Jazz music, Madlib delivers nothing new or extraordinary in comparison to paragons such as Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane. Casual Jazz listeners should find Miles Away
enticing, whereas avid Jazz fans probably will not. Moreover, Hip-Hop fans who are less familiar with Jazz, and curious about how Madlib’s creativeness develops in a different musical genre should be in for a pleasant surprise.