Robert Glasper Experiment @ the Love Supreme Jazz
& Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Lalah Hathaway & Bilal
@ the Barbican Centre
6 July 2013 & 14 May 2012
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Desert Island Discs
Which 2 albums would you take with you to a desert island?
Herbie Hancock – Sunlight
Stevie Wonder - The Best Of?
Robert Glasper has long kept one foot planted firmly in jazz and
the other in hip-hop and R&B. He’s worked extensively
with Q-Tip, playing keyboards on the rapper’s 2008 album The
Renaissance and co-writing the album single “Life Is Better”
which featured his label mate Norah Jones. Glasper also serves as
the music director in yasiin bey’s touring band, and has toured
with the multi-platinum R&B singer Maxwell.
The Los Angeles Times once wrote that “it’s a short
list of jazz pianists who have the wherewithal to drop a J Dilla
reference into a Thelonious Monk cover, but not many jazz pianists
are Robert Glasper,” adding that “he’s equally
comfortable in the worlds of hip-hop and jazz,” and praising
the organic way in which he “builds a bridge between his two
Glasper drove that point home with his last album, 2009’s
Double-Booked, which was split neatly in half. The first part featured
his acoustic Trio, which had gathered a great deal of acclaim in
the jazz world and beyond over the course of two previous Blue Note
albums (2005’s Canvas and 2007’s In My Element). The
second part featured his electric Experiment band and hinted at
things to come, even earning the keyboardist his first GRAMMY nomination
for “All Matter,” collaboration with the singer Bilal
that was among the contenders in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance
category in 2010.
With Black Radio, the Experiment band has fully arrived. Featuring
Glasper on piano and Fender Rhodes, Casey Benjamin on vocoder and
saxophone, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, and Chris Dave on drums,
the band is plugged in and open source. Each of the band members
is prodigiously talented and lives naturally in multiple musical
worlds, distilling countless influences into a singular voice. “That’s
what makes this band unique,” says Glasper. “We can
go anywhere, literally anywhere, we want to go. We all have musical
ADD and we love it.”
Black Radio also features many of Glasper’s famous friends
from across the spectrum of urban music, seamlessly incorporating
appearances from a jaw-dropping roll call of special guests including
Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, Shafiq Husayn (Sa-Ra),
KING, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Musiq Soulchild, Meshell Ndegeocello,
Stokley Williams (Mint Condition), and Yasiin Bey.
“I wanted to do a record that showcased the fact that
we play with artists in other genres,” explains Glasper,
adding that the album has “more of an urban, hip-hop,
soul kind of vibe, but the spine of it all is still a jazz spine.”
What may be most remarkable about Black Radio is how Glasper (who
also produced the record) was able to weave all these different
voices into a cohesive album, avoiding the random patchwork feel
that many “special guest” projects suffer from. “The
record doesn’t seem like it’s a special guest record
because of the relationships we all have,” he says. “These
are all friends. All the guests on the album have musical similarities.”
That common ground and comfort level is what created the spontaneous
spirit of adventure and experimentation that permeated the recording
sessions, which all the band members describe as being more fun
than work. Friends would drop by the studio in Los Angeles to hang
out, listen to the band, get inspired, and jump into the vocal booth
to lay down a track. “These are all people who are known
for being in another genre,” says Glasper, “but
at heart they’re jazz musicians, so they’re like ‘Let’s
hit it. We don’t really know what’s going to happen
but let’s go for it and see what happens.’ We all have
that in common, which is why I chose the people I chose.”
“You can’t pigeonhole what we’re going to
do or how we’re going to do it,” Glasper declares.
The Experiment wears its eclecticism on its sleeve throughout Black
Radio, presenting new collaborative originals and surprising cover
songs. They transform the Afro-Cuban standard “Afro Blue”
with Badu, Sade’s “Cherish the Day” with Hathaway,
David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermione” with Bilal,
and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Benjamin’s
Glasper and Lupe Fiasco (whose recent gig together at the Blue
Note Club in New York became a freestyle jam session when Kanye
West and Yasiin Bey crashed the stage) co-wrote “Always Shine”
which features Fiasco’s lyrical flow as well as a searing
chorus sung by Bilal. On “Gonna Be Alright,” the R&B
singer Ledisi highlights Glasper’s bright melodicism by writing
new lyrics for his instrumental “F.T.B.” from the In
My Element album.
The track “Ah Yeah” (a co-production with Glasper’s
high school friend, the GRAMMY-winning producer Bryan-Michael Cox)
is illustrative of the good fate that hung over the sessions. Glasper
went to Atlanta to record with Musiq Soulchild at Cox’s studio.
At a show the night before the session Glasper ran into singer Chrisette
Michele and asked her to come by the studio as well the next day.
The resulting duet is one of the album’s highlights.
Reflecting back, Glasper is rightly proud of Black Radio, but also
humbled and grateful for the outpouring of support and talent that
it took to bring the album into being. “Everyone just
said yes, period, we’ll do it. It was smoother than I ever
thought it would be to get all these great, amazing artists to come
together and do this project.