Archives for posts with tag: Robert Glasper Experiment

2013 in Review: New, New to Me, and Those We Lost

There were many solid new releases this past year and many had two things in common. First, they were introduced to me via Gilles Peterson’s (@gillespeterson) BBC6 program, Worldwide, a staple in my listening. Second, three of my top 5 were released on Blue Note Records.

New Releases:

Looking back just 12 months, there were so many good albums released that I had enough fodder for a top 10, with Omar’s The Man winning the year.

10. Kon, On My Way
9. Brand New Heavies, Forward
8. Mario Biondi, Sun
7. Alice Russell, To Dust
6. Ed Motta, AOR
5. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, Leap of Faith
4. Jose James, No Beginning No End
3. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
2. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
1. Omar, The Man

Other notable releases were Quadron’s Avalanche, Da Lata’s Fabiola, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, RC & the Gritz’ Pay Your Tab, and Wild Belle’s Isles.

New to me: Rediscovered

Chakha Khan & Rufus – Before Chakha Khan’s 80’s resurgence, her career was launched with the 70’s funk and soul band, Rufus. Their album, Street Player (UMG Recordings, 1978) is a particularly good showcase of the bands smoothness and how well suited Khan’s vocal style is to their music. The track, “Destiny,” is essential listening.

Harvey Mason – I posted a Harvey Mason playlist after discovering this drummer who made his mark on numerous jazz and fusion classics.

Skee-Lo – An oddball find from 1995 when hip-hop albums were so prolific that it was hard to cut through the clutter to find those that would last. Skee-Lo’s album, I Wish (Ultra Moda Music, 1995) holds up today with its pleasing blend of melody and rhyme. It’s also a hip-hop album that’s not afraid to have some fun.

Ben l’Oncle Soul – Neo soul has been played out in my books for some time now. But Ben L’Oncle Soul’s self-titled release (Mercury Music Group, 2010) had a fresh take because a) it’s mostly sung in French; and b) the artist makes the music his own, not trying to mimic crooners from the 60’s and 70’s but celebrating his voice and music in his own way.

Notable Passings

  • Donald Byrd – One of my musical heros. An innovator and prolific melodist. Tributes to him abound on the internet as the year closes out. Nice to see him getting such wide recognition.
  • Stompin’ Tom Connors – A Canadian folk music treasure whose lyrics and music are essential Canadiana
  • George Duke – A keyboardist and innovator in the vein of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock
  • Lou Reed – Another innovator and catalyst who influenced rock and punk acts through the 70s and 80s

Most Anticipated in 2014

Q-Tip, The Last Zulu – This project has been on the radar for some time now but it’s hard to nail down a release date amongst the hype out there. The album is said to include, in some form, a reunion of original A Tribe Called Quest members.

Zara McFarlane, If You Knew Her – The follow-up from her excellent 2011 debut Until Tomorrow (Brownswood)

Jose James – His second release on the Blue Note label is in production, according to James’ facebook updates.

Prince, Plectrum Electrum – The recently released (and excellent) single, “Breakfast Can Wait,” will be on the album as will tracks featuring the rock-centered 3rd Eye Girl who are touring with Prince.

Happy, peaceful, and musical New Year!

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

Feature: 2012 in Review – New, New to Me, and those we lost

Reflecting on my musical discoveries in 2012, there were many but the theme that emerges is squarely in the 1970’s. That decade pre-dated my musical awareness, which only sprung in the Eighties. But thanks to great DJs and musical curators like Gilles Peterson (@gillespeterson), Jason Palma (@jasonpalma), Kon (@Kon1200), and Huggs (@huggs), I rediscovered an amazing slice of musical magic from the 70’s.

So here are my favourite finds, some new releases, and a reminder of some of the musical greats we lost this year:

New Releases:

New to Me: Re-discovered

  • Leon Ware – An impressive body of work from the 70s that blends soulful vocals, jazz-influenced arrangements, and a dose of disco. The track, “What’s Your Name,” in particular, kills.
  • Ahmad Jamal – Calming, patient jazz that I overlooked in my younger years
  • The Philly Sound – Velvety
  • Donald Byrd – My 70s music hero and a mentor to the Mizzell Brothers, my other 70s heros. Not mention Harvey Mason, a spectacular jazz drummer. Mason’s beats on “Flight time” drive that track more than any other instrument in the arrangement. Not a lot of drummers can do that.
  • D-Train – Groovy synth funk from the early eighties; Credit the keyboard genius of Hubert Eaves III. “Keep on” is simply addictive.

Notable Passings

  • Don Cornelius – Host of Soul Train
  • Donna Summer – Queen of disco
  • Jose Roberto Bertrami – Azymuth keyboardist, one of the world’s best on the Rhodes
  • Sam ‘The Record Man’ Sniderman – Toronto record shop pioneer
  • Dave Brubeck – Legend of jazz
  • Ravi Shankar – Legend of Indian Classical music

Most Anticipated Release in 2013: New album from Alice Russell (expected February 2013)

Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Album Review: Black Radio, Robert Glasper Experiment, 2012

Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who, with this outing, experiments with the fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. The experimentation in itself is not groundbreaking but the outcome is brilliant. Artists like Guru and Q-Tip have played in this space for some time but the freshness that Glasper brings is grounded in his piano accompaniments and tastefully chosen collaborations.

If rain were able to play the piano, it would sound like Robert Glasper. His style is unique, his fingers falling in succession on the keys, playing melodies in arpeggio. Listen to “Downtime” from his previous release, Double Booked, for a nice showcase of his style.

It’s that style that subtly forms a latticework of piano sounds around the vastly different and joyful tracks on Black Radio. Even before hearing the album, I was giddy to see this list of collaborators: Erykah Badu, Chrisette Michelle, Bilal, Mos Def, KING, and Ledisi all in one place!

The tracks themselves offer a range of style and even genre that keeps the record fresh on every listen. “Afro Blue” is classic Badu. “Move Love,” with KING, is a sublime groove rightfully featuring the beautiful vocals of that US-based trio. Perhaps the surprise of the lot is “Cherish the Day” a cover of a Sade song performed by Glasper and Lalah Hathaway. As a discerning Sade fan, I was skeptical. But this version retains the sparseness of Sade’s original while enhancing it tastefully with Hathaway’s take on the vocals and Glasper’s arrangement.

The one disappointment is the title track, which has moments of niceness but struggles to find a comfortable pairing of Mos Def’s rapping style with Glasper’s accompaniment. The final track, a lengthy cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is also hit and miss. Nirvana’s charms never resonated with me personally so this final criticism may more be my own bias then a comment on the track. It is admittedly an original take where Glasper pulls off an extended use of a vocoder. For this, he gets points for channelling Herbie Hancock.

Overall, this is a precious collection of well thought-through collaborations, original musicianship, and great melodies. It is substantial, which for a fusion project, is saying something.

(at press, this album is pending release on Feb 28, 2012)