39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Thomas B. Mitchell
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The "Monk Hughes and the Outer Realm: A Tribute to Brother Weldon" is yet another brilliant project from the ever-prolific Madlib.
Madlib has the Yesterday's New Quintet, a jazz "group," but really it's just him multitracking. This is another title in that vein, only it's attributed to "Monk Hughes" the "bass player" for Yesterday's New Quintet. So, get how twisted that is, Madlib has a "solo" record from one of his aliases.
It's a series of instrumental jazz tunes (many highly improvisational) that loosely recall Weldon Irvine. He was a bandleader/writer/arranger who is widely sampled (most notably by Tribe Called Quest on the song "Award Tour"). Irvine was a keyboard player (pianist/organist by training, electric keyboard madness on record) and sort of a mentor to a lot of these rap guys who fancy themselves instrumental musicians. Before he was "rediscovered" by rappers and rap fans, his most noted accomplishment was probably co-writing the song "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" (which was recorded by a number of prominent R&B folks including Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin--who made it an album title as well). Irvine's body of work is stylistically varied, mostly instrumental, and tends toward the soul/jazz side. Lots of polyrhythms, expansive keyboard playing, but tight and listenable compositions. Best way I can describe it: Stuff Tribe would sample.
While this album bears a ballpark resemblance to both "Stevie" (the Yesterday's New Quintet album of Stevie Wonder covers) and what I have heard by Weldon Irvine, it is a more challenging listen than either. One reason: Its subject--Irvine--was a much less commercial entity than Wonder. Anything that invokes Irvine's name is NOT going to have big, fat "Superstition"-type hooks in it. Another reason: Madlib is not the trained composer and performer that Irvine was. This is not said to discredit Madlib--whose instrumental skill is improving measurably on each subsequent release--but Weldon Irvine had more training, tons of band experience, first-hand exposure to groundbreaking musicians, and (most importantly) about 20 extra years of practice. I have no doubt that, in terms of forward-thinking musical expansion, Madlib will soon be included in that upper realm--not just for his instrumental jazz records, but for his widely varied and consistently inspired body of work.
"Inspired" does not necessarily mean "immediately enjoyable" and therein lies the challenge. I give Madlib generous credit for composing all the tunes on this record (12 of them), but, unlike "Stevie" or even "Madvillain," this record is harder to grasp. "Stevie" was probably the first Madlib production that I didn't need to listen to several times before enjoying. Here, without the melodic foundation of Wonder's songs, Madlib's original compositions wander a little bit. There is also a noticeable melacholy streak that runs through this record (no doubt generated by the fact that Irvine committed suicide in 2002). Major props to Madlib for using this moody, free-jazz approach and almost completely inverting his "typical" tight, terse production style. This record is certainly not tight, nor is it terse. These are lengthy, expansive, improvisational tracks with lots of vintage keyboard. There are no Stevie Wonder hooks or MF DOOM witticisms to comfort you.
But the payoff--as with every Madlib work that I've heard--is immense. Buried in these vamp-y jams are miniscule nuggets of jazz/soul/funk brilliance. In essence, Madlib has created tracks that could be sampled. You may have to wait for 4 or 5 minutes for the magical moment (maybe one bar) of interplay. You may have to sit through Madlib playing the same 3-note segment on the ARP synth 10 or 11 times in a row, but then a squiggly bass part slides in and the drum adds a fill and there's a washy fender rhodes progression and you're like, "Hey! What the hell was that???!!!!" Suddenly, you're bringing that 2-second segment back. Before long, you're listening to the entire song over and over (like I'm doing right now with "Day of Spirit Man").
It's clear that Madlib has integrated one Weldon arrangement technique--to have at least one instrument repeating the hook or at least maintaining the rhythm while the improvisation happens. One example is the rhodes phrase and conga rhythm that ground "Day of Spirit Man." Another instance where this technique works especially well is on "A Piece For Brother Weldon," where (without the repeated foundation) the improvisation would almost certainly derail the track.
With his soul/jazz foundation and occasionally amazing bits of instrumental interplay, Madlib invokes the funky spirit of Weldon Irvine quite admirably. And he does so alone, which is astonishing when you hear the record's "band" sound. I can only imagine what a monumental recording undertaking this must have been, especially when you consider that almost every instrumental part morphs within each track. The result is definitely a turntable kind of album, where the hassle of getting up and moving the needle prevents you from skipping over less-desirable passages. And that's a good thing, especially in this music world of singles-driven rap "albums." Madlib keeps it righteous, intelligent, and concept-driven. That's why there's nobody like him.