Band of the Day

2012.09.30

Robert Glasper

A seasoned pianist boldly blurs boundaries between jazz, hip hop, and R&B
Insightful remarks such as the best thing I've ever heard is silence. Some more technically impressive in a faux Spanish romantic hue of a Marxist dialect.
lyrics from Always Shine

Robert Glasper's introduction to playing music can be traced back to his roots in Houston, Texas, where his mother played piano and sang gospel music in church. By the age of twelve, Glasper took up the piano and began playing in church, as well as accompanying his mother in clubs. After attending the Houston High School for the Performing Arts, he moved to New York City to study at the New School University. There, he began playing with jazz stars like Christian McBride and Kenny Garrett. His debut album, Mood, was released on Fresh sound in 2003. This was followed by Canvas (2005) and In My Element (2007), both released on Blue Note. Glasper has also worked extensively with rapper Q-Tip, playing keyboards on his Grammy-nominated 2008 album, The Renaissance. This was followed by the 2009 release of the album Double Booked and, most recently, 2012's Black Radio (the first full-length from The Robert Glasper Experiment). The album features a number of guest stars, including Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, Shafiq Husayn (Sa-Ra), KING, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Musiq Soulchild, Meshell Ndegeocello, Stokley Williams (Mint Condition), and yasiin bey.

Though Robert Glasper got his start playing as a gospel pianist at the age of twelve (inspired by his mother, who was also a gospel singer and pianist), he's made a big name for himself outside of his former church in Houston, Texas. He's released four albums since his 2004 debut, Mood, and has collaborated with top artists like Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, and Bilal (who he worked with for the track “All Matter,” which earned a Grammy nomination in 2010). Once you listen to Glasper's music, it's no coincidence that the accolades have piled up. Though he's a student of gospel and jazz piano, Glasper is unafraid to explore even the most distant genre territories—including grunge rock. The closing track on his latest album, 2012's Black Radio (released under the name The Robert Glasper Experiment), Glasper boldly covers Nirvana's most famous song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” While the original Kurt Cobain-penned hit is a rowdy grunge rock anthem, Glasper reinterprets it through an experimental jazz filter. Casey Benjamin sings through a vocoder, amongst shards of samples, loops, and Glasper's jazzy piano-playing. The result is something that, while on the one hand completely familiar, soars to an entirely alternate universe. Similarly, the album includes Glasper's interpretations of David Bowie's “Letter to Hermione” (feat. Bilal), Sade's “Cherish the Day” (feat. Lalah Hathaway), and the Afro-Cuban standard “Afro Blue” (feat. Erykah Badu). Alongside the four covers, Black Radio features eight original compositions. “Consequence of Jealousy” starts with what sounds like a sample from an old hypnosis tape: “so for these next few minutes, submerge your mind/peace is filling your mind/try to visualize, in your mind, a picture” instructs the mysterious male narrator. Suddenly, Me'Shell N'Degeocello's signature smoky vocals take over as she declares, “I offer you my sweet devotion.” There are slight electronic elements, mostly in the form of blips and scratching, and drums that seem intentionally off-kilter. By not letting his music be constrained to jazz tradition, and by his willingness to collaborate with such a wide-range of talented musicians across multiple genres, Robert Glasper is stylishly redefining what modern jazz is.