In My Element
What’s the link between
Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” and Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage?”
Better put, the question should ask, “Not what, but who?” The answer: boundary-pushing,
hip-hop infused jazz pianist Robert Glasper.
While the popular music world showcases mash-ups by the likes of
hard-core rock band Linkin Park and rapper Jay-Z, jazz artists like Glasper
apply a more sophisticated subtlety when marrying disparate tunes. Similar to
pianist Brad Mehldaus attraction to Radiohead, Glasper notes how the tunes
are both melodically and time signature friendly. United on In My Element, the
combination of Hancock plus Radiohead represents pages torn from the new American
Songbook Version 2.0. Seven minutes and forty seconds in, this selection
drifts elsewhere. It fades into a what-was-that? outro with haunting piano sketches
and living room percussion provided by drummers Greg Hutchinson and Chris Dave,
who here trade drum sticks for a token spoon, glass, and pencil. This is followed
by a voicemail that encourages recording J Dilla hip-hop joints and then drops
into a beat at the end of a Live performance by Glaspers trio. I
love interludes, says Glasper. Theyre just little snippets
that work and you want to hear more. They [Interludes] allow you to crush the
aspirin in the OJ and give it to the baby -- subliminally and casually.
Glasper always tells the engineer to keep the tape rolling when in the studio.
A few of the interludes sprouted on the spot yielding a fresh jive that escapes
any intoxicating edits. This interplay between studio and concert recordings
adds to the albums raw energy, and ups the authenticity tenfold. So often,
the roots of a jazz album are hidden, but here, Glasper shares some of the makings
of In My Element in the context of the album.
In 2005, Blue Note released Robert Glaspers debut on the label with Canvas,
an equally hip, yet more composed album. While Canvas contained more composition
and special guests, In My Element centers more on the trio. Bassist Vicente
Archer and drummer Damion Reid continue to round out the sound. While Glasper
rightfully declines to compare himself to other artists or cite laundry lists
of specific influences, he cautiously describes the Glasper sound.
With slight jest, he defines his sound as What I hear people say.
But with some prodding, Glasper offers that his is an original sound that reflects
todays generation. The jazz tradition is present, yet Ive
taken what I have learned and molded it into my own sound, he says.
While the album is intended for the under 35 crowd, it has the jazz staples
that a traditional audience may appreciate. Spanning gospel to hip-hop, Glasper
seamlessly intertwines genres to make them his own, without utterly dismantling
what qualifies them as distinct styles in the first place.
Whether teasing J Dilla hooks or covering saxophonist Sam Rivers Beatrice,
Glasper honors artists in the traditional jazz form. Although some artists have
integrated electronics and fancy editing techniques to merge the classic and
the modern, Glasper does so with new material presented through traditional
instruments. He strives to bridge the gap between the music and younger audiences
without incorporating looping or pre-recorded harmonic jargon. I dont
need a DJ, he remarks. Electronics and mixing just trick some people
into thinking its good. Clearly, the trance-like, even meditative
vibe supplies grooves that catapult ones mind to a different plane. I
just like to be in the space, he qualifies. I take people in the
space with me and aim to evoke emotions out of people. Some engage in musical
orgasms all at once, playing fast and choppy. This approach does not evoke emotions.
Glasper sets his sights on feelings generated by a listen to Miles Davis and
Bill Evans Blue in Green off Kind of Blue.
At times, jazz artists may practice classical music to get their touch together.
But Glasper is just in tune with the music. Im spiritual,
he says. The touch is gonna be there for me. With Glaspers
natural touch, and killin drums and bass, lets hope the group keeps
on keepin on.
In My Element