I recently said The Roots are the greatest live band in all of hip-hop. I stand by that statement, but it doesn’t mean they are without ANY competition. Allow me to introduce the Abstract Orchestra. Scottish sax player Rob Mitchell started the group in 2011 as a one time thing for a gig in Leeds, but quickly realized the potential of a live band doing inspired improvisational takes on hip-hop jams, so it went from a one time to a full time thing. After assembling the full “orchestra” a slew of tours, albums and collaborations with everyone from Estelle to Mega Ran followed. Before this starts to sound too much like I’m their publicist let’s talk about “Madvillain, Vol. 1.”
MF DOOM and Madlib’s “Madvillainy” collaboration is one of my all time favorite albums. I gave it a straight nine across the board for music and lyrics back in 2004, and if I was reviewing it today I’d go even higher. That’s not just because of my affection for the late Daniel Dumile. It’s an album that sits like whiskey in a charred oak barrel, absorbing flavors through age that weren’t there before, becoming more omplex over time. On normal contemplation you have to consider how the music and lyrics have both grown in stature, but with “Madvillain, Vol. 1” you get to stop and appreciate the depth of the instrumentation the two created by hearing a full orchestra recreate them. These aren’t one to one copies either. Abstract Orchestra takes classics like “Raid” and starts with the familiar beat and piano riff, but quickly evolves it into a fluidly flowing jazz interpretation that honors the original while being a fun and funky fresh new take.
Saying I love this idea is only half stating how I feel. I wholeheartedly ADORE what Abstract Orchestra has done here. It’s like hearing “Madvillainy” again for the first time, and I’m not sure how to pay it a higher compliment than that. I’m sure that owes a great debt to the skilled musicians in Rob Mitchell’s crew. Anyone could have done covers of what DOOM or Madlib did, but hearing them rock “ALL CAPS” shows not just that they appreciate the album as much as I did, but that they could have easily been Dumile’s touring band if he was still around. I don’t think he would have sent a DOOMBOT to rock their sets. It’s not just an homage, it’s an incredibly skilled performance, and much like the band itself he’d start freestyling and letting the music create magic.
“Madvillain, Vol. 1” ends with an epic eight minute long “Madmix 2” that includes unexpected bonuses, like hearing the Abstract Orchestra play Madlib’s “Space Ho’s” remix from Danger Doom’s “Occult Hymn” EP. Technically speaking you could argue that’s not a Madvillain track, and I’d argue right back that DOOM is rapping and Madlib produced the beat, so why the hell is it NOT more of the Madvillainy we know and love? Love. That’s the key word for this album. Everything about it was done with love. Considering it came out two years before Daniel Dumile passed away, it paid respect to everyone’s favorite Super Villain while he was still here in the physical, and I suspect that if he heard it he knew how loved he truly was.