When pianist Robert Glasper signed to Blue Note in 2005, he was the label’s first new jazz artist in five years. His Blue Note debut, the acoustic-electric Canvas, was full of strikingly original compositions, adventurous playing and occasional nods to hip-hop rhythms. Seven years later, and in the wake of another round of artists publicly agonizing about the meaning of jazz, Glasper offers his own take on the subject.
Black Radio, the first full CD from the Robert Glasper Experiment, is a seamless blend of jazz, neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop that just may score another pop crossover for the label. Joined by bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Chris Dave and saxophonist and vocoder player Casey Benjamin, Glasper uses a slate of guest artists to maximum effect. Shafiq Husayn’ s spoken-word declaration on “Lift Off,” the opening track, provides a taste of what’s to come — “experimentation for meditation.” The track winds down with unaccompanied acoustic piano sprints and a montage of mic-check audio.
Subsequent tracks are more straightforward, beginning with Erykah Badu’s chill-out version of “Afro Blue,” during which she engages in call-and-response with Glasper’s piano. Other familiarities abound: a percolating approach to Sade’s “Cherish the Day,” with Lalah Hathaway; David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermoine,” flute-edged and given a mellow reading by singer Bilal; and, least likely, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” girded with thrumming bass drum, percussion and various audio effects, and topped with Benjamin’s vocoder vocals.
Original tunes, mostly in the neo-soul or hip-hop vein, are similarly engaging. Highlights include “Ah Yeah,” featuring the duet vocals of Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele; the atmospheric ballad “Consequence of Jealousy,” with Meshell Ndegeocello; and the title track, with Mos Def rapping and singing. Does Black Radio represent the future of jazz? Time will tell.
— Philip Booth