Madlib - Sound Ancestors (Arranged By Kieran Hebden) LP (Madlib Invazion, 2021)
"Across his catalog, Madlib has maintained a tricksterish relationship to authorship, relishing his ability to leave you wondering who exactly is doing what, and when. On a series of jazz-oriented releases that feature Otis Jackson Jr. playing many or all of the live instruments himself, he has adopted a series of fanciful aliases: Yesterday’s New Quintet, Sound Directions, Ahmad Miller, The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble. Whatever other roles these characters serve in his process, they also upend received hierarchies of value in musical creativity. He’s happy to take credit for an album that a traditionalist might write off as plagiarism of other people’s work—but when he’s playing bass, drums, percussion, kalimba, synth, organ, electric piano? That wasn’t Madlib, that was Monk Hughes & the Outer Realm.
Sound Ancestors is elusive in subtler ways. “Duumbiyay,” its gorgeous final track, features a grainy child’s voice and a crisply recorded jazz combo working in tandem. When a piano enters the mix and stabs out a two-note figure that precisely mirrors the singer’s exclamatory phrasing at the end of a line, the moment is mildly startling. The voice and the instrument sound like they were recorded in different decades, perhaps on different continents. As the track goes on, their involvement becomes more intimate: the piano seems to accompany the singer deliberately, harmonizing the simple melody with a jaunty left-hand bassline and densely clustered chords, as if they were in the same room. Maybe we are hearing the magic of two musicians reaching unknowingly toward each other across time and space; maybe Madlib played the piano himself along to an old field recording he likes, or maybe he hired a session musician to do it. Maybe the strange mix of fidelities is all baked into a single uncanny sample, and he’s just letting it play. Whatever the answer, the effect is the same. Hey, you, the music calls out. Listen to this." - Pitchfork