Live preview: Robert Glasper Experiment
The genre-flouting keyboardist kicks jazz into the future with some starry voices.
Wed Feb 22 2012
Photograph: Mike Schreiber
Starting with the lead track off his first album—a now-famous arrangement that pitted the melody from Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" against the chords from Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place"—pianist Robert Glasper has made it a point to approach non-jazz material from a jazz angle. But he takes the concept to a whole new level on Black Radio, a different-vocalist-on-every-cut album that features tunes by Sade, Nirvana, and David Bowie, not to mention original songs written with everyone from Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) to Meshell Ndegeocello, both of whom appear on the record. At the Highline, Glasper will celebrate the album's release by reuniting with a sampling of his Radio collaborators, including Bey, Bilal, Lalah Hathaway and Chrisette Michele.
The first full album from Glasper's Experiment quartet—Casey Benjamin on alto sax, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, Chris Dave on drums and Glasper on Fender Rhodes and piano—Radio covers a lot of ground. Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" is given a sly, dancey makeover, bolstered by Glasper's shimmering work and Erykah Badu's warm reading of Oscar Brown Jr.'s classic lyrics. Bowie's "Letter to Hermione" is transformed from bare-bones folk lament to smoky jazz ballad, Bilal's understated anguish leading the way. And "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is reimagined as a spacey, late-'70s outing la Hancock, thanks to Benjamin's vocoder. "The best thing you can do for people, I think, is just be honest," says a voice at the end of "Gonna Be Alright." Sounds like something Glasper would say.