Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio

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Robert Glasper Experiment | Black Radio
By Peggy Oliver

 

What
makes jazz musicians so appreciated are their extraordinary musical
moves and how they incorporate their vigorous passions in other genres
into their own distinct musical personality. Robert Glasper was
influenced by a jazz/blues singer in his mother, Kim Yvette Glasper. But
Glasper certainly was destined to become more than the standard jazz
stylist. The Houston, Texas native knew no boundaries when it came to
displaying his piano prowess – for instance playing regularly in three
different church denominations.  There were plenty of other heroes in
his life that informed him from childhood to college. Some were those
who broke the mold when it came to the modern jazz movement: Herbie
Hancock and Keith Jarrett. On the other extreme, Glasper’s heart deeply
beats hip-hop, soul and R&B.


 

 
Through
his subtle yet complex fills, runs and improvisations, Glasper has
managed to weave his brand of acoustic jazz with plenty of Hancock’s
picturesque compositions and Jarrett’s free-form attitude with
occasional exclamations of pop (Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right
Place” and “All I Need”), soul (“I Remember”) and hip-hop brushes (“J
Dillalude”) and gospel (
“Y’outta Praise Him”).
Between the modern jazz world with Christian McBride and Terrence
Blanchard and hip-hop/R&B with Kanye West and Mos Def, Glasper
endured his share of some befuddled critics and jazz enthusiasts. He
also shared an inclination for soul; nourished from his association with
Maxwell to one of Glasper’s college classmates, vocalist Bilal, whose
undeniable chemistry matured into a prolonged professional
relationship. 
 
Glasper eventually stepped into the solo artist realm with his working trio on the independently released, Mood. The progressive jazz label Blue Note zoned in on this multi-faceted pianist, signing him in 2005. The Blue Note debut Canvas, the sophomore disc, In My Element, where Glasper pays tribute to his late mother and the third release, Double Booked,
introducing Glasper’s new quartet entitled The Robert Glasper
Experiment; demonstrated the pianist’s affection for jazz while
occasionally quoting lines from other genres and subtleties of hip-hop,
R&B and gospel sensibility.  
 
The Experiment now gets full booking for Glasper’s latest Blue Note release, Black Radio.
The title is very suitable considering the talent Glasper invited to
the table. “Lift Off/Mic Check” where hip-hop, free form jazz, R&B
and the spoken word by
Shafiq Husayn collide, properly introduces
The Experiment’s mission: “An experimentation for meditation.”   “Afro
Blue” is one of the jazz’s first standards exploring African
cross-rhythms. The Mongo Santamaria music with lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr.
(the lyricist for Max Roach’s classic Freedom Now Suite)
has been performed from Dianne Reeves to Liz Wright. Erykah Badu takes
the microphone honors anchored by drummer Chris Dave’s deep funk pockets
and Casey Benjamin’s flute playing. Lupe
Fiasco stretches his MC skills with a dissertation on leaving a
memorable legacy on “Always Shine:” “Vicariously in every rap I speak
with/ I hope you’re speakin’ for me/If I’m ever speechless.” “Gonna’ Be
Alright (FT” features the always riveting soulful kick of Ledisi. The
song’s climax veers off in a slightly offbeat direction from the
positive lyrics into a brief on-point discussion about musicians being
pigeonholed and wondering if the bar has not been set high enough in the
current music scene. Glasper revisits “Why Do We Try” by Mint Condition
(from E-Life) in a dubstep style, accented by the soaring voice of the
band’s lead Stokley Williams. Mos Def throws down some rapid-fire rap
and nice soul crooning for the title track. Of course, Bilal enters the
spotlight with his warm jazzy perspective of David Bowie’s “Letter to
Hermoine.”  
 
Glasper occasionally detours on Black Radio
into other musical points of interest such as Nirvana’s signature,
“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” where Benjamin’s vocoder adds a harsh yet
fitting texture to Kurt Cobain’s already contradictory, angst lyrics in
another light.
 
Black Radio
is truly a satisfying labor of love for Glasper who successfully
amplifies his passion for jazz, soul and hip-hop. Those aforementioned
who participated on Black Radio plus the
talents of Lalah Hathaway, Musiq Soulchild & Chrisette Michelle,
Meshell Ndegeocello and King are equally first-rate, expanding Glasper’s
musical vision in a very coherent and compelling way.   Four and three-quarter stars out of five.
 
By Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene

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