Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note

Artist: Mad LibTitle: Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue NoteRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Brolin Winning

The toast of underground hip-hop aficionados, jazz cats young and old, and open-minded music lovers everywhere, Madlib has put in a ridiculous amount of work over the past decade. Between The Lootpack, Quasimoto, YNQ, and assorted other productions, not to mention the highly anticipated Jaylib and MadVillain collaborations, the “Loop Digga” is an unstoppable force when it comes to making beats. On his latest endeavor, he is granted full access to the vaults of Blue Note Records, arguably the most important and influential jazz label in existence.

Unlike the Blunted In The Bomb Shelter mix that he dropped last year, Shades of Blue is more composition than compilation, with Madlib adding his own distinctive flavor to several classic tracks, in many cases re-recording them altogether as brand-new interpretations. Even if you're not particularly well-versed in jazz history, some of the tunes are instantly recognizable for their famous samples, including Ronnie Fosters "Mystic Brew", reborn here as "Mystic Bounce". Bobbi Humphrey's much-loved "Please Set Me At Ease" is given the treatment, bolstered by Medaphoar's on-point rhymes, nod-inducing beats, and spirited vibes (credited to Ahmad Miller). The remix of Donald Byrd's "Steppin' Into Tomorrow" does the nearly unthinkable task of out-funking the original, while "Slim's Return" (an updated version of "Book of Slim" by The Three Sounds) is laced with ample vibraphones and some extremely sharp cuts.

Though the remix tracks are all rock-solid, the covers are also impressive. Yesterdays New Quintet puts a new spin on Wayne Shorter's "Footprints", loaded with busy percussion and spacey keys, and the Joe McDuphrey Experience present a Rhodes-heavy rendition of "Peace / Dolphin Dance" (by Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock respectively). Two other standouts, "Stormy" and "Funky Blue Note" are credited to Morgan Adams Quartet Plus Two -- a new alias perhaps? The latter is notable as the album's only track originally composed by Mr. Jackson Jr., propelled by high-powered drums, meandering organs, and wispy flutes. The record is also interspersed with brief messages/shout-outs from an array of players past and present, including Galt MacDermot, MF Doom, Leon Spencer, Steinski, and Lou Donaldson.

While Madlib's workhorse mentality and myriad of side projects can make it hard to keep up with all the music he releases, this record is well worth seeking out. Another thoroughly enjoyable and uniquely funky addition to an already deep discography, Shades of Blue further demonstrates his mastery at blending the old with the new, reinforcing his status as Beat Conductor extraordinaire.