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London Jazz Festival – Robert Glasper

  Monday 21st November 2011

The main hall at Kings Place saw suited jazz aficionados next to casually youthful contemporary Londoners. Such a cross section of society probably goes against the preconceptions of a jazz night, but that’s exactly what you get from Robert Glasper, a musician able to straddle jazz, hip-hop and all the worlds in between.

The show started with a burst of slow weaving chords, accompanied by a raft of percussion, each musician rhythmically and instinctively rapping the sides of their instruments, after which the trio sprang through fragments of improvisation and melodies from Glasper’s catalogue. They trio then headed into a number packed with mighty refrains that became bedding for a solo from bassist Derrick Hodge – all of which ran for just over forty minutes.

Robert Glasper at the London Jazz Festival.

Robert Glasper at the London Jazz Festival.

‘Jelly’s da Beaner’ from his second album ‘Canvas’, concluded the first half, an up-tempo number that was later stripped bare for a hypnotising drum solo that mesmerised the crowd as the drummers hands steamed through four minutes of blistering hi-hats and snare licks. A solo that reassured the audience that although Glasper’s usual drumming spectacle Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave wasn’t present, Mark Colenburg had a prowess to deliver. The crowds’ cheers and whoops solidified his claim.

The second act began with a rumbling bass solo that transformed into ‘No Worries’ a track from Glasper’s last album ‘Double-Booked’ which introduced his second outfit, The Robert Glasper Experiment to his listeners (The Experiment also played XOYO the night before). Robert used the arrangement to throw in familiar melodies and hooks from songs by Phil Collins (In The Air Tonight) and rapper Common (Thelonious) in a salute to the late cult hip-hop beatsmith J Dilla.

The hard-hitting boom-baps rolled into a cover of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’ but blossomed into his jazz-rock mash up that is ‘Everything in it’s right place/Maiden Voyage’ a song that merges the melodies and arrangements of Radiohead with the sensibilities and textures of Herbie Hancock – an idea that was touched upon on his debut album ‘Mood’ but was fully realised on his third album ‘In My Element.’

He then brought to the stage, multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, who accounts for a quarter of the Robert Glasper Experiment. The quartet then eased into ‘I Have A Dream’, another gem from arguably one of the greatest pianists in jazz history Herbie Hancock. Of course Glasper wouldn’t be Glasper if he didn’t customise his covers, this time opting for an off-kilter hip-hop back-beat, adding a drum machine swing and an air of modernity to his rendition.

Glasper is by far one of he most intriguing pianists today and his creativity is often best displayed during his sparing solos or ivory mumblings between songs, when he is left to explore his ideas and reinterpret not only jazz standards but rock numbers, and his own compositions.

Robert Glasper’s next album ‘Black Radio’ will be released February 2012, and features the talents of soul and rap royalty such as Lupe Fiasco, Common, Mos Def, Chrisette Michele and Erykah Badu.

Kieron Ifill


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