The Abstract Orchestra // The Wardrobe, Leeds // 04.02.17
These days, we’re well-versed in the notion of highly repetitive and seemingly dull tribute
acts paying homage to legends, from The Smiths to The Beatles to Iron Maiden – the latter’s
top selling tribute act being The Iron Maidens, crudely named after its entirely female line-
up. Whilst this is somewhat amusing, it reflects the stigma that surrounds these occasionally
much-heralded tribute acts; that they’re a joke, merely a novelty. Their existence only
peddles to our inherent cravings for nostalgia. We’ve been waiting for something different
and exciting to transform the tribute scene, and I think we may have found them: I present
to you The Abstract Orchestra.
The Abstract Orchestra is a collective of revered session musicians, spear-headed by their
musical director, Rob Mitchell, whose innate ability to bring all sorts of musicians together
and build a seamless performance is simply astounding. They aim to fuse big band jazz and
funk with legendary hip-hop beats, inspired by legendary performances from the likes of the
Roots and Jay-Z alongside previous orchestral re-workings of timeless hip hop tracks.
Pioneering Leeds promoters Soul Rebels have managed to bring them right to our doorstep.
On a particularly wet and windy night in Leeds, I headed down to The Wardrobe, armed only
with a heady optimism for the night to come and a deep-embedded desire to reminisce over
the Orchestra’s renditions of classic J Dilla tunes. The 16-strong band looked impressive as
they took to the stage with their multitude of instruments, and the shimmering golden
myriad of the brass section was lit up by the bright lights. I remember pondering how J
Dilla’s tracks would translate into the big band format before the gig, but as soon as they
played the opening notes of the first track of the night, it all fell into place. The big band
adaption felt so natural; the brass filled the room, but was smooth and expressive without
dwarfing the bass-lines. Played by their phenomenal bassist, Chris “Fatty” Hargreaves, they
made your soul shake and stirred your inner emotions. The band were complimented by a
stream of talented MCs and vocalists, who helped bring some of the songs to life in a
wonderful acknowledgement towards the vast array of artists J Dilla worked with before his
untimely death in 2006.
The gig attracted a spectacularly diverse crowd, though I think none of them could have
claimed to know every track from the varied setlist. But this wasn’t important. The band
perfectly captured the magic of J Dilla’s work, whilst adding their own distinct jazzy flavour.
The highlight had to be their unique rendition of ‘So Far to Go’, taken from Dilla’s
posthumously released album The Shining. It’s probably the most recognisable of all his
output, and the crowd were entranced by its distinct keyboard stabs, hypnotic vocal chants
and stunted beats. It was a peak in a brilliant night, greatly thanks to the fluidity and
musicianship of the wonderful collective who magnificently encapsulated the soothing
sounds of a by-gone era.
The Abstract Orchestra are due to convert their live tribute into physical form, having just
been added to the roster of LOA Records. The album, Abstract Orchestra Does Dilla, is an
exciting prospect, and if it’s anything as good as the live show, then you’re in for a treat.
We’re assured it will be appearing very soon, but for the moment, we’re living happily with
a brilliant night of some of hip-hop’s best tunes performed in a fresh and exciting fashion
firmly in our minds. These guys are a tribute act that you simply won’t get bored of, and
who can think of a better person to give homage to than the late great J Dilla.