Robert Glasper – Black Radio 2
(Blue Note B001866102. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
Pianist Robert Glasper just wants us to know his music’s there: ‘If you could just say, “Robert, I heard your album and it sucks!” I will be happy.’ he told one interviewer. Black Radio 1 won many jazz and hip hop awards, and Black Radio 2 feels like a continuation; Glasper wanted to ‘…keep the vibe and the spirit of the first one without it sounding the same.’
Think of it as a jazz album, and the rap and strong hip hop grooves stand out. Think of it as a hip hop album, and the subtlety and beauty of the jazz chords and solos leap into the foreground. Like Herbie Hancock in his Possibilities and Imagine Project, Glasper has collaborated with many of his favourite singers. The tracks have mostly hip hop grooves, courtesy of Mark Colenburg’s excellent drumming. The jazziness mostly springs from the acoustic piano. In Let it Ride, Glasper’s solo recalls Hancock in its lyrical expressiveness, shimmering arpeggios entwined with Norah Jones’ vocal lines. The contrast between Jones’ smooth voice and Colenburg’s delicate but driving drum ‘n’ bass is wonderful, culminating in a drum solo of complex vitality. In You Own Me, Faith Hill’s vocal harmonies, layered and counterpointed, become a chordal backing for the tantalisingly agile piano solo. In the mellow hip hop groove of No Worries the Fender Rhodes is overtaken by piano as it embroiders Dwele’s rich vocal harmonies. The Joni Mitchell-ish Trust is sung movingly by Marsha Ambrosius over the bass drum’s heartbeat; as she longs to ‘mend the broken pieces of her heart’, the piano chords disperse into vocal harmonies. Jill Scott’s characterful performance of Calls is a high point. She brings out the drama of the simple lyrics, and even scats a little dialling tone phrase, as her playful chuckle blends with the piano and Derrick Hodge’s groovy bass sub-tones.
Glasper doesn’t always feel he has to solo, and doesn’t on the more hip hop-inflected pieces. You can’t copyright a chord sequence, but Glasper’s sweet repeated chords, with densely clustered voicings reminiscent of his hero Mulgrew Miller, are always immediately recognisable as his. What Are We Doing has dark-edged chords on Fender Rhodes, the bass emphasising the dissonant notes (hints of early Erykah Badu) behind Brandy’s Nu-Soul vocals. In Yet to Find, with Anthony Hamilton’s throaty voice, the piano looks back to the country-gospel style of parts of Glasper’s Double Booked album. Casey Benjamin’s dreamy vocoder on Baby Tonight revisits Black Radio 1.
I Stand Alone features the spoken word with Common’s witty rap: ‘Alone in a crowded room, my mind made up like a powder room…’ and a quote from Michael Eric Dyson, asserting that African culture relies on repetition, ‘recycled through the imagination’. Persevere has duelling rap from Snoop Dogg and Lupe Fiasco. Jazz and hip hop extremes meet as Glasper solos eloquently in response to repeated words. Lalah Hathaway’s sublime voice could be bottled and sold as a complementary therapy in Stevie Wonder’s Jesus Children of America, the album’s only cover. It includes Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s very moving poetic tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: ‘I see 20 children standing there..angel light as they take flight…fly high…’
It’s important to Glasper that musicians feed on music that’s the ‘soundtrack of their lives.’ This is a very satisfying album, richly-textured, the music pulling first towards hip hop, then to jazz, but always distinctively Glasper.