Yesterdays Universe is a compilation comprising the various incarnations of Yesterdays New Quintet. Much like Sun Ra’s many groups, each version of the Quintet explores a different direction in jazz. And much like Sun Ra, Madlib (who happens to be each of the five members of the Quintet) has invented not only an alter-ego, but an alter-reality. What makes Yesterdays Universe so thrilling is that each band represented actually sounds different. If you pay attention to each instrument, it’s as if each player has his own personality, and it comes out not just in the way he plays, but in the way he reacts to the other players. The Young Jazz Rebels saxophonist is brash and adventurous, for instance, but the horn player who graces Jackson Conti’s “Upa Neguinho” is modest and gentle.
Madlib treats the songs on Yesterdays Universe with the thought and respect of a composer. Rather than riding out a few dusty loops, there’s genuine discovery going on, with the listener bearing witness. On the Jahari Massamba Unit’s track, “Umoja (Unity),” there is an actual tension between the band members for nearly two minutes as they struggle for the spotlight before finally giving the drummer a solo. At that point you can almost picture these fictional cats smirking to each other in agreement: They’ve figured out the direction that the jam will actually take.
The benefit of presenting the album as a compilation is that so many facets of jazz are represented. “Slave Riot” seems to find its roots in Ornette Coleman’s classic Free Jazz; “Vibes from the Tribes Suite” is most likely a nod to the work of Bobby Hutcherson; “Cold Nights And Rainy Days” recalls Thelonious Monk; and both tracks credited to the Otis Jackson Jr. Trio feature heavy use of melodic synthesizer similar to much of Sun Ra’s early-’70s output.
As far as jazz purists are concerned, it may come off as disrespectful to call this an amazing jazz record. But as far as Madlib is concerned, it would be disrespectful not to.
“Cold Nights And Rainy Days” MP3: