Album Review: Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note, 2013)

Robert-Glasper-Experiment-Black-Radio-2When Black Radio was released in early 2012, it made an immediate impact, upping the already respectable cool factor at Blue Note and delivering a surprisingly cohesive album for a hip-hop/R&B/jazz fusion project.

I was surprised to see a follow-up album, Black Radio 2, so soon after the first. To be this prolific in such a short time, one wonders what Glasper and his collaborators left on the table. Were they rushed because of the pressures of a multi-album deal? Did the success of Black Radio force his hand to replicate his formula without the same attention to detail?

None of these fears are founded. Black Radio 2, like its predecessor, delivers an impressive variety of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. His collaborators are amazingly as diverse, notable, and suitable as with Black Radio.

The sound ranges from the Quiet Storm opener, “Baby Tonight” to the devotional closer, “Jesus Children” to the rousing rally cry of “I Stand Alone” featuring Common and Patrick Stump. Overall, R&B emerges as the dominant genre while Glasper’s distinctive piano feathers nearly every track.

A notable pattern on the album is that many tracks contain refrains or interludes that Glasper uses to varying effect — the best of which is Wayne Brady’s hysterical cameo phone message at the end of “Let it Ride,” sung by Norah Jones. And if you ever wondered what happened to Theo Huxtable, Malcolm Jamal Warner contributes to the spoken word outro on “Jesus Children.” On a more intense note, a reading from Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson closes out “I Stand Alone.”

Thank God we’ve still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness reminds us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us. – Michael Eric Dyson Interlude on “I Stand Alone”

Including this somewhat preachy missive reveals what may be Glasper’s inspiration for this album and its predecessor. Here is an accomplished jazz pianist who has stepped well outside the jazz genre. Black Radio 2 doesn’t really blur Jazz’ boundaries (like Herbie Hancock did) but may contribute to the expansion of what people perceive as jazz (like Guru did with his Jazzmatazz projects).

Musically, this album delivers so much good R&B that a debate over genre is quickly rendered inconsequential. These collaborators surely emptied out the pantheon of contemporary female vocal greats: Jill Scott, Faith Evans, Brandy, Norah Jones, Marcia Ambrosius, and Lalah Hathaway. Male vocalists Anthony Hamilton and Dwele also make solid contributions. On the Hip Hop front, Common, Snoop Dogg, and Lupe Fiasco appear (Fiasco wins extra points for incorporating F1 driver, “Kimi Raikkonen” into a rap verse).

The last time one man got this much talent to guest on his record, it was Quincy Jones.

Perhaps Glasper has risen to Dyson’s challenge, not by innovating and expanding on jazz, but by using his current standing at the apex of “jazz’ coolness” to attract A-list collaborators and make great music on his terms.

Related Posts: Black Radio, Album Review