Kamau Ware After taking home an award for Best R&B Album at the 2013…
- Posted on Apr 21st 2011 2:00PM by Mike Doherty
And the Robert Glasper Experiment, who have welcomed both superstars onstage, are no ordinary jazz outfit. They're just as likely to cover J Dilla and Nirvana as they are to offer jazz standards or pianist Glasper's own progressively-minded compositions; at a gig at Toronto's Glenn Gould Theatre last month, for instance, they did all four, to hollers of approval.
Lounging backstage after the concert, the rangy, wryly funny Glasper reflects the anti-purist philosophy that has attracted fans of, and collaborators from, various genres: "I want to be like a Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson in everybody's iPod. I don't want to just hand it to the jazz cats; I want to cater to the hip-hop cats, to the rock cats."
The Robert Glasper Experiment are a versatile ensemble that lets him do just that; and features bassist Derrick Hodge (also the artistic director for R&B singer Maxwell's band), drummer Chris Dave (who played on Adele's smash album '21'), and vocoder/keytar/electronic saxman Casey Benjamin. Onstage, the foursome often expands. A four-night residency in February at New York's legendary jazz club the Blue Note featured soul singers Stokley Williams (of Mint Condition) and Lalah Hathaway, and, on two nights, rapper Lupe Fiasco, whose album 'Lasers' went in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last month.
Fiasco was first introduced to Glasper's work via the in-flight music player on a plane to Japan, which included the 2009 album 'Double Booked.'
"He told me he listened to that for the whole 14 hours to Japan," says Glasper. "He got my number from Q-Tip [whose 2008 album 'The Renaissance' featured the pianist], and called me; he wanted to do a project, and then the project got put on hold. When I got the nights at Blue Note, I hit him up. He said, 'Hell yeah.'"
Together at the club, the five musicians swung fiercely. Mos Def, a frequent Glasper collaborator, showed up to freestyle on one of the nights, along with Kanye West.
Glasper had played on West's 2005 album, 'Late Registration' -- though the two were never in the studio at the same time. At the Blue Note, West "vibed with us. We connected like that," says Glasper, snapping his fingers. "It was great. Everybody starts off at a little club like that; that's everybody's real love -- not the arenas. In arenas, there's no connection. And then the legacy of all the jazz history, the music history in general [at the Blue Note] -- people love that."
Freestyling, it seems, is the new scat-singing: "It's the same thing, with lyrics," offers Glasper. "It's just being of the moment."
With their vocalist guests, the Robert Glasper Experiment draw out the improvisational connections between jazz and hip-hop -- their music isn't just about catering to different sets of fans, but also about coaxing fans to open their ears to other genres. A new album -- to be recorded in May or June -- promises to do the same: it's slated to feature Bilal (whose performance of the song 'All Matter' on 'Double Booked' was nominated for a Grammy), Stokley Williams, Common, Mos Def, Erykah Badu and Meshell Ndegeocello.
And significantly, everyone who has joined Glasper onstage -- including Beyoncé, who knows the pianist from her high-school in Houston, Texas -- has wanted to connect with the jazz sound rather than take it over.
"That's how it's been with everybody we mess with," says Glasper. "They respect us for what we do; they like to come into our world, not just us playing behind them. It's like, 'Where are y'all playing at? We're coming through!' They've all just been in the building 'cause they want to see the music."