Robert Glasper has built a career imbuing the jazz in which he was trained with the urban styles he’s so clearly fond of. He’s the rare pianist able to strengthen his own material with hip-hop and neo-soul, rather than mire it all in smooth jazz. With his Robert Glasper Experiment’s new Black Radio, the Houston native makes a full-blown crossover bid. Gone are the head-spinning chromatic windfalls and untethered solos. They are replaced by succinct arrangements, crisp grooves and rubbery low-frequency clusters.
The Experiment’s run at NYC’s famed Blue Note club a year ago offered a teaser of this, bringing on stage rappers Kanye West, Yasiin Bey (the former Mos Def) and Lupe Fiasco. The latter two feature on the new disc, alongside vocal spots from high-profile guests including Ledisi, Meshell Ndegeocello and Erykah Badu, who breathes new life into a boom-bap version of the standard “Afro Blue.”
Though Black Radio lacks the elastic feel of Glasper’s previous work, the subtle, stripped-down quiet storm offered here is no less captivating, built upon the slinky backbeats of drummer Chris Dave. Longtime Glasper collaborator Bilal takes the mic at this Double Door show, which portends nothing less than an R&B odyssey.