Yesterday's New Quintet: Angles Without Edges

Yesterday's New Quintet
Angles Without Edges
Stones Throw


YOU KNOW THOSE rich guys who try to travel around the globe in a hot air balloon? The ones who never succeed, and it's sort of cute, but mostly pathetic? Well, musicians trying to re-create the sound of the soul-jazz heyday share a similar attempt/failure rate. Most acid jazz sounds so fresh, so clean when held up next to the rare groove innovators it's trying to emulate. Trip-hop is like listening to paint dry. And funk re-creationist nerds like the Breakestra ultimately come across as a novelty act.

But take the rag away from your face; now ain't the time for your tears, funk fans. L.A.'s Madlib--best known for his alter ego Quasimoto's The Unseen--is back with yet another alias: Yesterday's New Quintet. And at long last we can say someone has figured out how to make modern jazz-funk that is unpretentiously innovative and reverent without being kitschy.

Madlib reveals himself as not only a brilliant hip-hop producer, but a multi-instrumentalist whiz kid as well, getting down with his bad selves on Rhodes, Clavinet, Moog, drums, and bass as well as the trusty MPC 3000. Angles Without Edges blends Madlib's carefully chosen samples with live instrumentation so effectively that sampled and live material become virtually indistinguishable. Only after repeated listens does one realize that on the song "Julani" the "drum solo" is coming from Madlib's sampler. Such subtle use of found sounds ought to have anyone still in the "sampling isn't real music" camp rethinking his position.

Elsewhere on Angles, Madlib conducts a xylophone marching band ("Keeper of My Soul"), makes joyfully dopey space noises ("Uno Está"), and even sheds a tear in his bong ("Broken Dreams"). Even the less engaging tracks somehow invoke a warm, fuzzy feel: The dorky melody of "Papa" is saved by its obese thump. And "Life's Angles" veers dangerously close to US3-territory, but is roped back in by richly textured keyboards.

Un-ironic and ambitious, Madlib has raised the stakes of modern hip-hop musicianship. Though meandering at times, Angles proves that modern funk still has a pulse. Just when you thought every beatsmith had called it a day, Madlib successfully visits yesterday--and tomorrow.

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