Robert Glasper at Jazz Alley

By , March 31, 2010 4:57 pm

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I’ve been a Robert Glasper fan since I first heard Canvas, his first Blue Note record, years ago, and since then I would say he’s gotten as close to “blowing up” as a jazz artist can get, releasing his third album, garnering a fair amount of press, touring with Maxwell, and continuing to play with his trio and his new quartet.  In all fairness, however, I’ve found that he was already a pretty busy guy before Canvas, playing with Terence Blanchard, Mos Def, D’Angelo, Common, J Dilla, Jaleel Shaw, and a bunch of other people.

Obviously, when Glasper came into town last week with Chris Dave on board to promote the new record Double Booked, I was excited to see the band, especially with Casey Benjamin on Alto and Vocorder as well.  In general, it was not what I expected, but, in hindsight, that’s not such a bad thing.

In all fairness, I hadn’t really checked out Double Booked like I should have before the show, and the band was performing material taken from the second half of that album.  After all, the band booked at Jazz Alley, as my dad and I observed, was not the Robert Glasper Trio, it was the Robert Glasper Experiment, a small but at the same time very important detail.  I think what threw me is that this band is not going for a conventional jazz aesthetic, and therefore the conventional roles as pianist, saxophonist, drummer, etc. do not apply.  What did this mean to me as a listener?  Well, the main difference is what Dave was doing on drums.  Throughout most of the tunes, he was moving between different divisions of the beat, displacing downbeats, and moving grooves as the rest of the group held things down.  To someone expecting a groove that would stay in one place and do the same thing repeatedly, this would be unnerving.

This shifting in the band hierarchy had implications for everyone in the band and for the music in general.  There definitely seemed to be more of a “holding it down” vibe between Glasper and bassist Derrick Hodge, at all times.  Granted, they were super tight, and the communication between Glasper, Hodge, and Dave was unreal, but I kept waiting for Glasper to take the lead and for Dave to back up musically.  I felt the same way for a lot of Benjamin’s alto work.  There was a disjointed nature to the music:  shorter phrasing and quick statements, darting in and out of Dave’s drumming  (I will say this about Benjamin on vocorder, though:  really beautiful, expressive, and musical; my favorite moment of the night was Benjamin really going to town on it at the end of a Hodge original).

I’ve asked some other people about the band’s two nights at Jazz Alley, and some folks had similar feelings.  Deandre Enrico, a great bassist around town, wrote to me that “it often sounded…like the drums weren’t playing ‘with’ the rest of the band…it ruined any chance for a ‘groove'”.  But others, like my friend and drummer Tarik Abouzied, made the case that the music needed to be listened to in a different way, that when it came down to it Dave was comping and adding to the music the same way other musicians do, but because he is a drummer it sounds different to me.  I disagreed at first, but the more I think about it, the more I think Tarik may be right.

I talk a lot about trying to erase the divide between soloist and rhythm section, improvisation and accompaniment, but when I see it in practice I still fall into my old biases.  It’s also important to point out that although Chris Dave is the most well known of the group of drummers playing in this sort of style, there are many out there, and it could also be that I just need to check more stuff out.

I kind of wish I had the chance to see the Experiment again now that I’ve gone back and forth in my mind, but I will have to wait until next time.

3 Responses to “Robert Glasper at Jazz Alley”

  1. Jason Parker says:

    I went to the second night and was blown away by Chris Dave! His playing is quite different, and I found I was constantly being drawn in to what he was doing. He was so reactive and his ears so big. And his double-snare no toms sound was pretty cool.

    I went in expecting to see something different than your standard jazz show. Maybe that’s why I left satisfied?

    I will say that while I liked Benjamin’s vocorder work, I think he relied on it too much. By the 4th or 5th vocorder tune I found myself wishing he would just sing, or play, or do something different. But he is about the best I’ve ever seen on the instrument.

  2. I went to see him on Wednesday night and I had studied and really deepened with Robert’s ‘Double Booked’ album for nearly 2 or 3 months – so in some respects I was prepared and knew what I was getting into. I have to say, besides Robert’s often quirky/awkward stage humor in the beginning (which went on for nearly 5+ minutes), his music and band was so profoundly to me this evening. I felt completely transported by his “kraws” and “crings” on the piano and Rhodes and to hear other musicians (especially Chris Dave) supporting that musical reaching he does was simply blowing my mind. I was ready to get up on the tables and start screaming with joy because my heart was bursting so much. I recognize that Robert has heavily influenced my playing and so to that regard I’m definitely bias to his playing and music now, however there are elements of his music that I feel have the power to reach out to any type of jazz/fusion/boom-bap listener.

    Along with Jason, I felt Benjamin might have overdone the vocoder/keytar effect throughout the night, although I recognize it’s uniqueness in the music, it’s not like I would have wanted to hear Robert play a different instrument. The vocoder had it’s thing in the music – I guess it just would have been nice to hear Benjamin’s real voice (I bet that cat could really sing for real) or even just a different sound patch to vary things up. It’s a taste thing here, however I really dug seeing him do it in performance – the way he was bending and getting the sounds was just blowing my mind. Funny enough I’ll be covering this song this coming Sunday, April 4th at the Triple Door with some tap & modern dancers with my group The Teaching. I’ll actually be having to play Robert and Benjamin’s part at the same time…we’ll see how that unfolds.

    Regarding the rest of the show – I really felt the group began to shine when they let go near the end of Wednesday night’s show. They started quoting J. Dilla tunes and other more ‘Boom-Bap’ sounding progressions and I was just loosing myself in the grooves. I had to contain myself from not yelling after every bomb “WHOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAA!”. For me it was the icing on the cake that evening and I was so happy they just let go and started having fun.

    I overheard Jason say he heard a woman say on his way back from the restroom “Bad Experiment” and I had this thought that this individual just wasn’t connecting with the music. That’s fine. I think a lot of folks who go to Jazz Alley were quite possibly stunned that this wasn’t the “Jazz” type show they were hoping to see. Indeed, it was very easy to be misled when Robert has played at Jazz Alley before and played more inline with a standard Jazz Trio (still pushing the boundaries of Jazz, but staying connected) – so to see his name still featured and the word Trio simply changed to Experiment – anyone could have assumed this would be much like his previous performances. Nevertheless – “Bad Experiment” – I think Robert is beyond it being an experiment and for me it was an “Incredible Experience!”

    I’m definitely a fan of Robert’s (as I mentioned above) – so this performance was high on my list of top 10 best performances I’ve seen in my life. It was powerful for me and that evening I went home and stayed up to 6am writing new music. This, I think, is the key to doing something original – inspiring some cats to just go deep into a new musical vibe, while leaving others to scratch their heads or not enjoy it because it just doesn’t suit their tastes. I’m not saying it’s just black and white, but I’m saying that music has the power to sometimes go over peoples heads (which Robert’s music certainly has an element of – dare I say avant-guard jazz-hop?) and on the same hand directly impact cats who are needing that music so much during this time in their lives and development.

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard Canvass on KEXP driving home one evening – I immediately went out and downloaded his CD because he played the sickest little quote of ‘Blue in Green’ with a drum-and-bass feel beneath it at the end of the title track. That did it for me – I was hooked. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard coming from a Trio before and it was the beginning of a new strain of creative song writing I hadn’t been willing to completely immerse myself in until that point. Isn’t it amazing how the world works? A song for one person could be a start of a whole new thing and that same song for another person could just be another song that doesn’t fit in their world at this point in time.

    And man – did I mention – Chris Dave…seriously…seriously. Amazing.

    Glad to share my thoughts here and thank you Art for creating an exciting conversation here.

    -Josh

  3. […] I have enjoyed Glasper’s music for a while now (here’s an older post about him here ), so this is a great opportunity to maybe get a little closer […]

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