Album Review: Madlib – Sound Ancestors [Madlib Invazion Records; January 2021]

Those who tend to think of Madlib as curator will find plenty to like here, and that he’s helped along by Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet just adds to the sense of exploration- with a title like Sound Ancestors, a little sonic archaeology is to be expected. While he may not go as far as say, Sun Ra– well, he does have a little jazz on the side among other interests- he does at least keep things interesting down here on Earth. The hip-hop is in full supply, centred around ‘Two for 2- For Dilla’, a fitting tribute to one of his many collaborators (see Champion Sound and/or its attendant remix album), and his spirit does indeed seem to inform at least the middle half of this album- ‘Loose Goose’, ‘Dirtknock’, ‘Hopprock’ and ‘Riddim Chant’.

Around this extended elegy for his fallen comrade is stitched the sort of work he first attempted at Blue Note learning from Shades Of Blue and indeed its near namesake Kind Of informing ‘There Is No Time’, ‘The Call’, ‘Theme De Crabtree’ and ‘Road Of The Lonely Ones’. Perhaps a fairer point of comparison, given its breadth of style and overall nocturnal feel, is Bitches Brew, the apex of Miles Davis‘ experimentation outside of conventional forms in the land where trumpet is king?

Sound Ancestors in itself, in this context, is the nearest we get to one of Davis’ evocations of his ancestral homeland by one of his most fervent disciples, a long way from what made his name. But in the same way as Miles could lean on any of the great bands he assembled on his way to quite literally blowing it all wide open, here Madlib has the man also known as Four Tet, as reliable a foil as any of the many already tapped up. The importance of a good contacts book is not lost on another formative influence, Dr Dre bringing as much to the table in terms of the sonics of the aforementioned middle half- G-Funk becomes J-Funk, perhaps (for Dilla), the lessons of 2001 applied to 2021 and equally resonant.