Having built up a solid reputation on the live circuit, all-star hip-hop big band Abstract Orchestra are set to drop Madvillain Vol 2 on Leeds’ ATA Records on 24th May 2019.
The band, led by saxophonist Rob Mitchell, were initially inspired by live performances from the likes of The Roots and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, whose Suite For Ma Dukes encouraged Mitchell to write his own arrangements for J Dilla‘s work.
Having taken this on the road, the band recorded the album Dilla before hooking up with his brother, Illa J, for the single New Day. This in turn led to a tour with Slum Village following their release of the first volume of Madvillain, their interpretation of the seminal work from Madlib and MF DOOM.
Now it’s come around to Volume 2, Bonafide presents below the premiere of bonus track Air, not part of the original Madvillainy album, but a cover/remix of a track by Ann Arbour legend Dabrye with DOOM on vocals.
Having spoken to Mitchell whilst on tour with Slum Village and having a little history with the band myself having played with them a few times, I caught up with him about the premiere.
Listen to Dabrye’s Air featuring DOOM, as remixed by Abstract Orchestra, available now:
Part 1 of the album seemed to surpass even the Dilla release, how has the reception been?
Its been overwhelming just how well received the MADVILLAIN project has been. I keep getting random messages from people saying how much they love the music, which is the best feedback you can get.
It’s given the Abstract project some serious legs and opened up the potential for new ventures and collaborations. The process of writing and recording the music has also given me the opportunity to develop my writing and production skills, so the MADVILLAIN volumes have been important for me and the band.
How did the tour go with Slum?
The tour was a great success and without a doubt the best thing we’ve done as a group. T3, Young RJ and DJ Wells are the real deal and it felt like we clicked straight away. Those guys work hard every night on tour, we at least had days off in between! I’m hoping it’s the beginnings of something rather than a one off, and I look forward to working with them again.
L-R: Young RJ, Rob Mitchell and T3. Photo: Olivia Ferrara
What have been the benefits of switching to focused releases rather than general hip hop cover live sets?
I think having a focus makes it easier for the audience or listener to engage with the music and what we’re doing with it. It also allows me to focus on specific works by the likes of Dilla, and be selective.
Jazz has been troubled for a while, people aren’t so interested in the ‘old’ styles. In the UK however, there are, and has been for some time, people making clear statements on what jazz is to them. People like Soweto Kinch and Nubya Garcia are making jazz that is exciting, memorable and valid today.
I’m trying to make a clear statement that Dilla, Madlib and DOOM (and lots others of course) are jazz, and even greater than this their work is art. Playing big band arrangements of Dilla feels more valid to me right now than playing older styles, and I think the audience agrees and connects with this too.
Do you arrange on your own or with other members of the orchestra?
I write all the arrangements but these are just dots on a page and mean nothing until someone picks up their instrument. I might have a style and approach to my writing but the bands sound is the collaboration of individuals interpreting the dots, and that’s the exciting bit for me!
How did you go about choosing tracks you’d use for Part 2?
We actually recorded both volumes at the same time. However, I had a clear idea of how I wanted to program the two volumes. We recorded 23 tunes that ranged from shades of jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop (obviously) and electronic, and with that I wanted that range to spread evenly across the two albums, slowly becoming darker and more synth/electronic sounding. I’m really happy with how they’ve turned out and think they make sense individually and back to back.
Tell us a little bit about Air?
Well, you actually gave the idea its first leg up! A couple of years ago you videoed us performing Air and sent the video to Dabrye, he seemed to like it.
In the live set I use an MPC to trigger DOOM’s lyrics over the band. Last year in the final part of the mix stage I just thought wouldn’t it be amazing to have DOOM on the track just like when we do it live! Dabrye released DOOM’s accapella to Air and so I thought if I could get permission to use it the track would be perfect!
As you know, I contacted you to get in touch with Dabrye, he liked the idea and passed me onto his team at Ghostly. I put the track together and after some changes Dabrye agreed the track and it was sent to DOOM’s team for approval.
My label, ATA, had given me a window of time to get the track agreed before sending for mastering, which ended on a Monday at 9am. There was a long wait, I’m not sure if it was because of reaching DOOM himself or what but I had all but given up to the fact it probably wasn’t going to happen.
I got news at around 11pm the night before that the track had been agreed by DOOM’s team, literally hours before sending for mastering! I’m excited to have his name next to ours on a track, and for his voice to be on our re-work of the track, even if it is just a sample.
I’m hoping this is the start of a new direction for us, we’ll have to wait and see!