First published in 2015. ‘Cool. What’s up, y’all? Act like you’re at a club…’ That’s Robert Glasper at the beginning of this first trio record in a long while, here recorded live in front of an audience at Capitol Studios in Hollywood last December. “Dedicated,” in a note in the artwork, “to the victims and the families of those who were wrongfully killed by the police,” and recorded in December 2014 Glasper has reunited his trio (Vicente Archer on double bass, Damion Reid, drums) that made Canvas and In My Element with him and where his incredibly successful eventually Grammy-winning time bringing jazz to a new generation of hip-hop and R&B fans on Blue Note began, and he opens up after this initial intro chat with Black Radio 2 bonus track ‘I Don’t Even Care.’
A beautifully gathered version of Radiohead tune ‘Reckoner’ from the 2007 In Rainbows album moves the pianist into a different faraway musical space Reid’s rugged drumming a feature. Then it’s an absorbing ‘Barangrill’, an unusual choice from Joni Mitchell’s massive catalogue of songs dating back to 1972’s For The Roses Glasper at his most Herbie Hancock-like (Hancock remaining a powerful influence on him).
Glasper’s own tune ‘In Case You Forgot’ begins with a free form frantic dash up and down the piano and maintains its abstract feel mostly solo building up a big head of steam occasionally interrupted by some sharp drum hits from Reid, Glasper quoting from the Cyndi Lauper tune ‘Time After Time’ and the drummer towards the end taking a big solo that moves out into new open territory within this hugely long 13-minute track.
Glasper then returns to chat to the audience (“Cool,” again he begins) to introduce Musiq Soulchild’s ‘So Beautiful’ the spoken voice of Soulchild introduced on the phone as Glasper moves into a gorgeous vamp the trio slotting in magically behind him. Jhené Aiko song ‘The Worst’ and the sunny relatively untaxing John Legend-associated song ‘Good Morning’ are less involving, while a bustlingly swirling treatment of 1940s song ‘Stella By Starlight’ kept relatively brief means the album is to an extent anchored to a vital talismanic side of jazz history, Reid’s input here on brushes however providing a necessary more contemporary feel.
‘Levels’ from Glasper’s long time friend and associate Bilal has a brooding mournful quality to it while the album’s serious side develops significantly with ‘Got Over’ featuring the deep voice of Harry Belafonte in a personal statement about black experience and survival: “I’m one of the ones of colour who got over. I’m one of the ones your bullet missed,” the legendary actor says, with feeling. Finally, again mindful of the times and the key sociopolitical side of the latter part of the album ‘I’m Dying of Thirst,’ Glasper’s version of the Kendrick Lamar song features the pianist’s son Riley and his young friends reciting the names of African-American victims of police shootings including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and expressing their pride in their own identity.
Glasper with this record continues to be one of the crucial jazz pianists who are making a difference to the art form as well as reflecting the tradition of the jazz piano trio in transition as it reaches new audiences by also addressing some of the pressing broader concerns today in America that need to be solved for the good of us all. SG