Robert Glasper Experiment
(Ronnie Scott’s, May 23rd 2011, first night of four)
This was a powerful evening, and long and full. The sets were generous: the band took their final applause at the end of their second set at around 11.30pm. Glasper has definitely attracted a younger and different crowd from Ronnie’s regulars – all four shows this week are completely sold out.
And yet, give credit where it’s due, this was a proper, knowledgeable listening audience. People had brought their ears to the club for this show, and Glasper’s hushed solo off-piste wanders engendered silence and a real ambiance in the room.
The core experience of the Robert Glasper Experiment, however is loud. Drummer Chris Dave asserts, dominates, explodes into action, basically drives the bus. While this can sometimes leave Glasper in the role of colourist, the pianist feeds off everything Dave does. Glasper does have astonishing resources of colour, rhythm, pure piano chops: he is a genuine improviser who can literally go anywhere. And Derrick Hodge is a subtle bassist, but his first sounds were at a volume to shake to the core every one of us and every bit of furniture in the club.
The full house cheered the arrival of well-known songs from the last album Double Booked such as Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly. Nirvana’s Teen Spirit too. (Any more anyone?) Both were sung by Casey Benjamin using synth/vocoder. He’s also a strong free player on soprano and alto saxophones, the latter also using synth effects.
It was also great to see an underlying strand of humour and camaraderie in this quartet. Fears that “LOL” might have killed off laughter are misplaced.
The support came from house pianist James Pearson with Phil Robson on guitar, Sam Burgess bass and the Cuban Ernesto Simpson on drums. It was stormy outside in London last night, and I guess Cubans know about storms. I just heard their closer, Caravan. Simpson was blowing a gale: his switches of feel from latin to swing to double to triple, following the form of the song to the nanosecond, were infectious and joyous.
There have been quite a few reviews of this residency, but I recommend Sanjiv Ahluwalia’s for the Secret List