A packed Queen Elizabeth Hall last night played host to one of the Blue Note label’s most exciting young signings. Pianist Robert Glasper ’s trio, featuring bassist Derek Hodge and heavyweight drummer Chris Dave, served up a heady mix inspired equally by the significant history of the piano trio format and hip-hop production stylists Pete Rock and J Dilla. It was in fact a re-working of a composition by the latter which received the evening’s most animated audience response, highlighting the extent to which Glasper has forged for himself an audience which is as diverse as his own musical influences.
Playing on both the house Steinway and a Rhodes-piano in equal measure, we were treated to tracks from 2007’s In My Element record as well as some from this year’s release Double Booked (above). The trio were extremely relaxed on stage and at times playful, but constantly displayed their considerable virtuosity. Drummer Chris Dave in particular, while at times a little over-excitable, was certainly not shy of demonstrating his technical prowess.
The extended repetition of short anthemic grooves is something which Glasper’s trio both revels in and excels at. The debt to J Dilla and countless other hip-hop producers is clearest during these moments and is in turn a challenge to one of the dominant features of much contemporary jazz, that of constant and open development. For Glasper the joy of improvising often seems to lie in subtle and nuanced elaboration upon simple structures, a passion shared, it seems, by much of the audience for this gig.
Vocalist Bilal Oliver (famous as part of the neo-soul movement a few years back) also made a guest appearance with the trio for three numbers. While looking a little the worse-for-wear, no doubt having demolished the contents of the backstage mini-bar, Bilal went on to deliver an astonishing performance. His rendition of Duke Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood contained moments of immense beauty, but also of incoherence. There is no doubting his formidable range and rich tone, which might well have stolen the show on a different night.
The trio also made use of pre-recorded samples, in true hip-hop fashion, with accompanying recordings of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama. Glasper was combining a message of political hope with his own musical optimism.
This positive mood conveyed itself to us in the audience. So when the trio left the stage, we stayed planted in our seats, eager for an encore.
But our hopes were to be thwarted- by the South Bank Centre’s 11pm curfew.
Review by Pete Horsfall