And so the Medicine Show train rolls along, this time with Madlib unleashing some of the finest jazz he (and his countless aliases) has produced over the years. High Jazz comes smack in the middle of a year that has seen Madlib perhaps up his jazz game, if that was even possible. Besides the Medicine Show series, Madlib had released albums as The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble and Young Jazz Rebels, the latter of which was likely the most progressive, challenging and avant-garde output from Madlib ever (read: that doesn’t mean his best).
High Jazz falls somewhere in the middle of those two jazz releases in regards to its ease-of-listening. Tracks such as “Pretty Eyes” by the Jahari Massamba Unit boast a calming charm without sacrificing an ounce of musical intelligence. The steady click-clacking drums serve as the spinal cord, while all the other pieces – vibraphones, flutes, keys, erroneous horns – all fall into place.
Then there are tracks like “Tarzan’s Theme” by The Big Black Foot Band featuring The Black Spirits (yes, Madlib loves those complex names), which rely on off-kilter irreverence and experimentation. The percussive elements, however hectic, remain relatively constant again, which allows the track to not veer too far off course from the rest of the album, which it easily could have.
What’s most remarkable about this album, is that it actually sounds like an album. Because it is actually a compilation of previously made tracks, some with fresh updates, one may wonder if the tracks would blend together with smooth transitions – and rightly so. However, rest assured High Jazz plays out like this was the intended destination for these songs all along. Even the re-rehashed take on Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” (at just under 16 minutes) feels right at home. Brief cameos by the gifted Karriem Riggins and James Poyser only add to the depth of jazzy goodness.
Those looking for the hip-hop Madlib will ultimately want to steer clear of this record; this is advanced jazz that may take quite a few listens and then some to stomach to the untrained ear. That said, this is not quite the door-off-the-hinges free-for-all that was Young Jazz Rebels – Slave Riot. High Jazz is an enjoyable, not-readily-accessible and astonishingly streamlined Madlib take on modern jazz. Get groovy.