Got You Covered

Robert-Glasper

After the success of his R&B- and hip-hop-flavored Grammy-winning albums, Black Radio and Black Radio 2, pianist Robert Glasper decided it was time to return to the more conventional jazz setting in which he initially established his reputation. But for his first full-length trio recording since 2007, he also wanted to take a detour. “How can I make a trio record that would be different, and how can I do a trio record without totally ignoring the new fan base I’ve acquired from Black Radio?” Glasper said during a recent conversation, explaining the thought process behind his latest venture in the recording studio. “I wanted to do it in a way that would make both sides happy. And make myself happy.”

The result is Covered (Blue Note), an exquisite 12-song set, mostly of remakes, that underscores Glasper’s eclectic taste. The disc includes a piece popularized by R&B star John Legend, the jazz standard “Stella by Starlight” and even a pair of Glasper’s own songs from Black Radio 2. (The lone new original composition features a magnetic spoken-word performance by Harry Belafonte.) The variety of material reflects Glasper’s mission to “include as much of the black music experience as possible” — an experience that’s big enough to include songs by Joni Mitchell and Radiohead. “Rock and pop is black music, and that’s something people forget. Those are songs that I love and that encompass the black music experience without it being obvious. It just shows how global our music is. It all fits.”

Part of that experience includes reflecting what’s happening in the world now. His take on hip-hop sensation Kendrick Lamar’s “I’m Dying of Thirst” features Glasper’s 6-year-old son Riley and his friends reciting the names of African-Americans who have died at the hands of police or vigilantes. It’s a powerful statement that offers a chilling, yet ultimately uplifting, conclusion to the record. “We’re in the midst of such a fucking horrible time period, and we’re just being killed off like dogs by the police,” Glasper says. “It hits me differently because I have a son, and I don’t want him growing up in a place like this.”

Glasper, who contributed greatly to Lamar’s most recent album, seems to be in the enviable position where he can do as he pleases. He says he has a few ideas of what to do next, but he clearly doesn’t want to fall into a pattern, which is why he gave the Black Radio concept a break. “I kind of want people to miss it, and it will come back when it’s the right time,” he says. “I’m waiting to see how this record does. Then I’ll know how I feel, and I’ll know what the universe is telling me to do next.” —John Frederick Moore

Photo: Don Q. Hannah

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