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Soothing grooves and dreamy flutes on Madlib and Riggin’s ‘YHWH is Love’

Carl Pocket _ Flickr

Jahari Massamba Unit, a spiritual jazz duo composed of renowned producers Madlib and Karriem Riggins, have returned with their sophomore effort “YHWH is Love.”

Formed in 2020 as a hybrid of jazz and hip-hop, the two industry giants set out to deliver a futuristic take on jazz music. Since their inception, they have produced two decidedly different projects while maintaining their unique sound. 

This recent album is a stark departure from their debut 2020 release, “Pardon My French,” whose high-tempo brass sections and prominent bass have been traded in for a more spacey, delicate experience relying on emotion-filled flutes and saxophones but keeping the thoroughly impressive front and center percussion that defines the group’s sound.

“YHWH is LOVE” keeps things neat and minimalist. Most tracks rely on a steady, unchanging backbeat to keep the rhythm driving. The tight mix keeps things consistent and nicely allows each aspect of the piece to have its own slice of the limelight. 

The stable percussion also helps keep some aspects of the tracks in focus—such as the wispy flute and distorted trumpet lines—as the supporting keys, synths, and woodwinds blend in the background to form a deep, cloudy ambiance. At times, the unwavering percussion can be a bit monotonous. Still, Madlib’s expertly executed drumming provides some uniquely timed fills and rapid-fire hi-hats that are pleasing to the ear. 

Impressively, the album maintains its modern and hip-hop-fusion stylings while remaining faithful to classic jazz. Tracks such as “Stomping Gamay” kick off fiercely with a solid groove reminiscent of a Herbie Hancock piece. 

The duo’s influences extend beyond the border of the United States. “Karriem’s Bolero” is a wonderfully refreshing take on Cuban bolero music. 

A few spots on “YHWH is LOVE” deviate from the rest of the album, branching out from spiritual jazz into a more funky, bass-heavy area. “The Clappers Cousin” deftly employs an envelope-filtered, wah’d-out guitar laying down some rhythm over a picked staccato-thumping bassline. 

“Boppin”- perhaps the brightest song on the LP- utilizes a similar technique, being one of the few songs that allow the bass to take front and center. The main groove is accented beautifully by a dreamy piano while including a sampled conversation in what sounds like a crowded bar. This sample takes up some much-needed space, something a few songs on this album could have used to its advantage. Every track has its own equally impressive percussive section, and the use of various instruments and sounds combined with expert mixing creates an atmosphere that pristinely complements the album’s overall feel.

While a fantastically solid piece of music, “YHWH is LOVE” sometimes feels lacking. The album is filled with trance-inducing drums, swirling woodwind instrumentals and smooth brass, yet there seems to be a large amount of space that remains unoccupied. Certain tracks, such as the aforementioned “Boppin” and “The Clappers Cousin,” show us what the duo can do, making other portions of the record feel empty by comparison. However, what the album does do, it does very well. If Jahari Massamba Unit moves forward in the vein of this release and their debut, they are sure to continue making waves in the modern jazz scene.

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