Abstract Orchestra ‘Madvillain Vol.1’ LP/CD/DIG (ATA) 4/5

The Abstract Orchestra is an all-star hip-hop Big Band led by saxophonist Rob Mitchell and made up of some fire UK musicians who’ve played with the likes of Jamiroquai, Corinne Bailey Rae, Mark Ronson, Martha Reeves, John Legend and The Roots.

“Madvillain Vol. 1” takes the blueprint of their wonderful debut LP, “Dilla”, and applies the same approach to MF Doom/Madlib’s MADVILLAIN albums MADVILLAINY and MADVILLAINY 2.

Mitchell says of this album “MADVILLAINY is a jazz album as much as it is a hip-hop album and I wanted to explore this reciprocal territory there has always been between jazz and hip-hop. 70s cop show soundtracks have always captured my interest and imagination, and I discovered so much amazing music through TV themes, Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin in particular. They explored sounds that were menacing, angular, dissonant, frantic and yet captivating. They were also able to write music that was the flip side of all that dark chaos, and write lush and beautiful music. Arranging and scoring up MADVILLAIN Vol 1 has allowed me to explore these sounds that I’ve always loved, yet keeping a strong hip-hop identity as the core of its sound.”

We don’t necessarily have to compare “Vol 1” to the Madvillain originals, I guess, but I’m going to…They are 2 different voices from the same cords. Madlib/Doom’s game was darker, throbbing and thick with menace while the Abstracts is bright, playful, dancey with an absorbing filmic narrative. Face masks, subway trains n sneakers versus hair-in-the-wind, convertible Jags, cocktails and well-cut suits.
As expected from such high-calibre Northern players, the musicianship is wonderfully expressive throughout, orchestration is big and Brit-sounding (sometimes like the colliery’s enjoying a funky night off) and Mitchell’s arrangement is wide yet choreographed, creating the first soundtrack to my Autumn.
‘Accordion’ kicks things off all minimal and metronomic-like (a range of horns emboldening Daedelus’ eponymous accordian) gradually building greater layers of horn only to let them drop out again as is required to deliver the narrative of scene 1.
‘Curls’ is straight out the gate, dropping joy and hope with its upbeat horn punctuations of Waldir Calmon’s “Airport Love Theme” sample and some loose, playful Axelrod-lite trippy beats/bass lines. Kev Holborough’s trombone solo eases us onto the park bench to share our first intimate moment alone together. Maybe this relationship could go places?
‘ALL CAPS’ is a 3 parter. Part 1 brings us laid back snare/flute and that hard Ironside (Oliver Nelson) piano riff. Part 2 opens up into a full-on car chase that would make fellow Brits and obvious Schifrinites, James Taylor Quartet, very proud of them. Needs more flute! Part 3 is a breezy, busy dance through the city streets with energy again coming from the bustling trombone.
‘Bistro’ drips with early 90s soul jazz, including a slappy/pully electric bass and smoothe winebar Rhodes and sax. Deeply deeply sexy. I think this relationship IS going places..
‘Fancy Clown’ is soulFULL. The GORGEOUS controlled voice of Anna Uhuru 100% owns that ZZ Hill vocal sample. Almost enough flute this time. Tight as.
‘Raid’ is a land where keyboard (and snare and sun) is king – pushed up by the rousing Osmar Milito 4/4 percussive piano riff and opened up by George Cooper’s rolling Rhodes solo that has you experiencing sea breeze and blue skies.
‘MADMIX 1’ is all about Cop TV, suspense and soul (includes uplifting riff of The Sylvers “We can make it if we try”) while ‘Great Day’ feels like its title – the Rhodes mellowin’ out, just loungin’, until it erupts into a right old drumkit splashfest.
The final (boooo!) scene, ‘MADMIX 2’, is extensive. It moves from Sly soul, military snare, into De La Soul quirk, dinner jazz and then it gets fierce. Dark ganged horns and firey busy tight drums – it shoves, elbows and bites its way out on a drummers peak. Joost Hendrickx on the kit, everyone! Mic dropped.
I am all over this album. I think it’s more complete than Dilla. It’s endearing. Soulful. Makes you grin. Lots. It’s so desperate to be allowed out on tour. And If it does show at cinemas near you I strongly advise getting one of those big f-off tubs of popcorn and lose yourself for an evening.
Of course, Mitchell’s starting with some classic Madvillainy crazy-level quality here but he’s created something that stands on its own 2 dancing feet. I’m a massive Madlib-er and it absolutely works for me…Can’t wait to see it live.

Ian Ward