Yesterday's New Quintet

Stevie

(Stones Throw; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 27 April 2004

I am pretty much completely unqualified to be reviewing this album. Sure, I love hip hop, and while it may be true that as far as rap goes you don’t have to look much past Stevie Wonder to find the majority of the hooks used in the last decade, my experience with his music is embarrassingly limited. I was, sadly enough, born after Wonder had already released his masterpieces (Talking Book, Innervisions, and personal favorite Songs in the Key of Life). This album certainly isn’t hip hop, but Yesterday’s New Quintet, the all-Madlib jazz band, nails these instrumentals and shows where the grooves that hip hop relies on came from.

Coming off last year’s Blue Note remix project, and showing more jazz influence in his beats for Jaylib and Madvillain, it seems only natural that Madlib would revisit Yesterday’s New Quintet. Reissuing the limited press-release Stevie Vol. 1 with an additional track as Stevie: An Instrumental Tribute to Stevie Wonder seems a wise move, and there’s a Malik Flavors EP due out later this year just to keep Madlib busy.

“Superstition” opens up strong riding a deep funk groove and bringing forward the synthesizers of the original and some additional percussion but, unfortunately, losing the horn blasts of the original. The latin-styled “Visions” immediately jumped out at me; the smooth, crisp drumming perfectly sets the stage for the loose keyboards and thick bass lines. The piped in background voices in “Superwoman” distract only slightly from a track that’s just begging for a rapper. Madlib opens up the drums a bit and plays with electronics again, but also throws in a bass line that Blackalicious copped on Nia (it’s fun picking out the particular segments after awhile, as there are quite a few of them). The “Where Were You Last Winter” part of the song allows for more extended drum experimentation and incorporates melodic ideas of the first part seamlessly.

“Rocket Love Pt. 1” remains pretty static throughout, though it certainly livens up the original. The upbeat “You’ve Got it Bad Girl” lets loose with some improvisation on synths and keyboards over a quickened beat. “Send One Your Love” perfectly builds on Wonder’s original beats, but then drops in a bass drum to drive the song home. “Too High” ups the funk factor on the original, though it doesn’t develop much. “I am Singing” and the third interlude do little to set themselves apart, but the final two tracks again show that when loose Madlib can enhance a groove five fold. The snare drum on “Golden Lady” and synthesizer improv especially allow for a deepening of the beats and greater understanding of Wonder’s role in the development of hip hop.

Madlib puts even Robert Pollard to shame in terms of prolificacy, and it’s something of a shame that this had to be such a short disc, as there certainly are more Wonder songs begging for the Bomb Shelter treatment. As is this is certainly a fun album, if not overly serious. Madlib clearly understands the beauty of Wonder’s compositions and, as any good cover artist should, highlights these elements while not forcing his own agenda. The album serves as yet another testament to Madlib’s blunted genius and what with the upcoming release of Wonder’s first album in nearly ten years I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Wonder-Madlib collaboration. Hypothetically the coolest project of all time? Absolutely.