Robert Glasper Trio feat. Chris Dave & Derrick Hodge with DJ Jahi Sundance - 9:30pm show - 3/28/19 - SOLD OUT - WAIT LIST AVAILABLEThursday, March 28 2019 9:00 PM Doors / 9:30 PM Start / Ends 11:00 PM (ESTIMATED ENDING TIME)
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Robert Glasper Trio feat. Chris Dave & Derrick Hodge with DJ Jahi Sundance - 9:30pm show - 3/28/19 - SOLD OUT - WAIT LIST AVAILABLE
at City Winery Chicago
- 9:00 PM
- 9:30 PM
- 11:00 PM (ESTIMATED ENDING TIME)
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 musical touchstones.”
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,” a 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 vocoder vocal.
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.”
Career-wise, this creates a constant balancing act, and on occasion literally being double-booked, appearing with the Trio and the Experiment on the same night. Such is the storyline that emerges on Double-Booked, with conflicting voicemail messages from Terence Blanchard and Roots drummer Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, each pulling for a different Glasper band.
“Most people, if they have different bands, they do separate albums,” says Glasper. “But I felt I’d be making more of a statement if I put it all on one joint.” The result, in essence, is a snapshot of Glasper’s life. “This is what I’m dealing with,” he continues. “It’s not like I play jazz but I also play hip-hop now and then. I’m in it, for real, both sides of the spectrum. That’s my life. A lot of people go in stages—they might focus on trio for a long time, then they change or whatever. My thing is both, all the time.”
The first six tracks on Double-Booked feature Glasper in Trio setting with longtime bassist Vicente Archer as well as drummer Chris Dave, who plays in Glasper’s Experiment band but recently came on board the Trio as well. “It’s hard to find that common thread in one cat,” Glasper enthuses. “Very few cats out there are extremely convincing in all genres of music. There’s always a wink-wink somewhere, like they play jazz really good but the hip-hop’s a little strange, or vice versa. Chris has both sides down on an even level, and he keeps on creating. He and Vicente used to play together with Kenny Garrett, so they have a history that made the linkup a lot easier. He knows the Chris-isms and Chris knows the Vicente-isms.”
As on In My Element, Glasper underlines the Trio’s hip-hop leanings with short fade-in interludes (“little Pete Rock-isms,” Glasper says) that function as short codas to some of the tunes. From the outset, with the lyrical flow and supple interaction of “No Worries,” one hears what Nate Chinen of The New York Times describes as “spongey, changeable adaptations of hip-hop rhythm tracks…Glasper himself plays as if he’s a living sample…in a kind of real-time loop.” “This is a little ditty I came up with when I was in London at a soundcheck,” Glasper recalls. “We played it that night at the show. I kept hearing people in London say ‘no worries,’ and that seemed like the title. It has a real positive, bright, ‘It’s ok’ vibe.”
“Downtime,” set mainly in 7/4, evokes a memory of Glasper looking out the window at the rain—“kind of like the ‘F.T.B.’ of this record, if you will,” Glasper says, referencing a standout track from In My Element. Both “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)” and “59 South,” meanwhile, touch upon Glasper’s hometown environment in Texas. The latter references a heavily trafficked highway in Houston, a cultural reference not unlike the Brooklyn Bridge in Glasper’s current home base, New York. “Yes I’m Country” prompts Glasper to explain: “I have a country swing when I play sometimes, and I like playing that way.” The vamp of the tune, an intriguing five-bar phrase, exemplifies the sort of off-kilter rapport that sets the Glasper Trio apart. “I love odd phrases that vamp,” he adds. “It brings a whole different feeling than a regular vamp.”
The Trio portion of Double-Booked culminates with an astonishing treatment of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.” In an ingenious and totally natural overlay, Glasper seizes an opportunity in last A section to quote Ahmad Jamal’s “Swahililand,” the chord progression that formed the basis of De La Soul’s 1996 hip-hop classic “Stakes Is High,” co-written by Glasper’s hero and friend, the late beatmaster J Dilla. “Monk and Dilla are both passed away, so when I play live I sometimes say they’re both probably in heaven, chillin’. Maybe they’re talking about this arrangement! I always wanted to mix a jazz joint with a hip-hop joint but make it dope, not contrived. Chris’s drumbeat is so crazy at the end, the hi-hat with the placement of the bass drum—you don’t get this on a jazz record, ever. That’s why I made it the last Trio tune, because it’s a perfect segue.”
From that point forward, we are firmly in Experiment-land, with Chris Dave remaining on drums—although the drum sound on this half of the album can be markedly different from the first. “4Eva,” a live excerpt featuring rap icon Mos Def, leads us straight into another world. “Butterfly” is originally from Thrust, Herbie Hancock’s 1974 landmark album. Hancock, as both a pianist and a genre-crossing innovator, is of course a huge influence on Glasper. “It just happens that every one of my records has a Herbie tune—it seems like I’m doing it on purpose,” Glasper says. “I’m not. But I had to put this on the record because it’s dope.” Casey Benjamin’s vocoder effects heighten the mystery of the melody, and a J Dilla beat called “F--- the Police” serves as a rhythmic foundation.
Benjamin’s arsenal of sonic effects is at the fore of “Festival,” colored by Glasper’s Fender Rhodes, taking wild, digressive turns over the course of 10 minutes—the Experiment sound at its most representative and expansive. “Casey has so many pedals, it’s a whole thing when he sets up, he has to go to the gig before us,” says Glasper with a laugh, noting that Benjamin is playing only alto saxophone and “nothing’s overdubbed.” A short transitional piece, “For You” by Benjamin and drummer Sameer Gupta, leads into “All Matter,” a striking, unclassifiable original by vocalist Bilal Oliver. Glasper offers: “You can really do this song in any situation, and it does stick with you. So pretty.” Derrick Hodge, the Experiment’s bassist, an accomplished composer as well as a top-shelf jazz and hip-hop sideman, contributes the final track, “Open Mind,” also featuring Bilal. It’s “a spiritual tune” in Glasper’s words, with additional textures and voice elements from turntablist Jahi Sundance, the son of alto saxophone great Oliver Lake.
Hailed by listeners and critics, Glasper has also garnered the respect of the toughest audience of all: musicians from across the jazz spectrum. In a May 2008 Blindfold Test for Down Beat magazine, a fellow pianist instantly identified Glasper and praised him as “a fantastic musician,” pinpointing characteristics of his unique style: “a harmonic maze, but also an insistent rhythm, certain turns and filigrees and ornaments, some of them sort of gospelish.” With Double-Booked, Glasper further develops all these elements and pulls them together in a new synthesis, continuing his ascent to the top ranks of modern jazz artistry.