Robert Glasper: Black Radio 2


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On Tuesday night I went to see Robert Glasper perform with the Robert Glasper Experiment at New York's Best Buy Theater. I feel as though I saw the contemporary equivalent of Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. If jazz-R&B winds up having a defining moment, it was last night. The theater, which holds 2,000, was filled to capacity and the audience—African-Americans, whites, Asians, men, women, older folks, kids, you name it—were enthralled. Which makes me think that a fascinating thing is happening—jazz is giving R&B a level of sophistication while R&B is making jazz hip to kids who don't want to research 100 years of music before they have a clue about it.

As I write in today's Wall Street Journal (go here), jazz is changing and Robert is at the front end of the new movement. To be sure, Robert isn't playing Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans on his Fender Rhodes nor is his electro-funk quartet playing the Jazz Messengers or Dave Brubeck. Personally, I think we have enough jazz as we know it on recordings to last 10 lifetimes. Instead, Robert is pioneering a new space that unites ethnic groups, demographics and even people with different tastes. 

Jazz must change. If it doesn't, only about seven people will be listening to it way down the road. Before you get all hot and bothered about how Robert's music isn't jazz and that it's just rap or soul dressed up fancy, think about how many kids who listen to his music will want to know more about jazz as they age and will wonder who Count Basie was, what that guy Art Blakey was all about and why Louis Armstrong was so popular. Robert's music is a way in for many kids who don't even know what real instruments sound like today thanks to the digital electronic ege.

Robert's new album, Black Radio 2, is the followup to his Grammy-winning Black Radio from 2012. It's admittedly more R&B than jazz, but you can hear many jazz motifs from the '70s in there. When I was at Robert's apartment in Brooklyn last week to talk about the new album and the jazz-R&B revolution, we discussed why R&B mattered so much. As Robert put it, R&B is as more a part of his youth than jazz and kids today need jazz to wrap around their musical language, not the American Songbook. Which makes sense.

Robert's new album is excellent, if you dig Roy Ayers, Doug Carn, Herbie Hancock and other artists who pioneered jazz-soul in the 1970s, you'll love Robert's album. If you know nothing about those artists, you'll still enjoy it if you keep an open mind.

At the concert, what struck me most was the effect his music was having on the audience. First, Robert's jazz-R&B added sophistication to hip-hop that has spent too long with a dull focus on beats and boasts. Second, the music was highly feminized. Much of it was taken in a slow-jam tempo with rich Fender Rhodes chords and beats that struck a chord with women—a relief from past R&B misogyny. Third, the on-stage talent and the audience was grateful for what Robert was doing and treated him as an R&B elder-statesman (he's 35). Fourth, the audience was viewing jazz as hip—or its presence in R&B, anyway. And fifth, the music forced the audience to think and listen rather than merely respond.

It was exciting to watch, enjoyable to hear and a revelation to realize that jazz is indeed changing. It may not be exactly the jazz you're used to hearing, but neither was bebop in 1944 or any new jazz style. And like Robert's music or not, it's still the future.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Robert Glasper's Black Radio 2 (Blue Note) here.

JazzWax clips: Here's Robert Glasper Derrick Hodge on Stevie Wonder's Golden Lady...

Here's the Robert Glasper Experiment's tribute to Roy Ayers...

Here's Robert explaining the new jazz...

And here's a track from Black Radio 2...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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