The Robert Glasper Trio

Covered: The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios
(Blue Note)

In his spoken intro to the audience at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, Robert Glasper casually lays out the premise of Covered. The pianist says he “didn’t want to go straight jazz, off the top, Boom! out of nowhere, but do a nice happy medium” between R&B and jazz, complementing a few previously unrecorded originals with fresh spins of favorite songs he enjoys listening to on his iPod. Inviting and soulful, freewheeling and inventive, this live set marks Glasper’s return to acoustic trio jazz after conquering the R&B/hip-hop charts  — and winning two Grammys — with two highly produced, star-studded Black Radio projects. The album also reunites him with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damian Reid, the rhythmic foundation for the pianist’s first two Blue Note releases.

A loose, genre-hopping sensibility makes for a fresh, surprise-filled ride. Fronting crisp, hypnotic drum fills, Glasper kicks off the show with a moody, seductive stroll through “I Don’t Even Care,” the original version of which was a bonus track on Black Radio 2 featuring Macy Gray and Jean Grae. Throughout the set, Glasper interprets wildly varied material, taking a sweetly whimsical jaunt through Radiohead’s “Reckoner” and an increasingly frenetic, highly improvisational read of the deep Joni Mitchell cut “Barangrill.” While he winks at trad jazz with a sparkling rendition of “Stella by Starlight,” the emotional core of this intimate concert comprises his arrangements of songs by contemporary R&B/hip-hop artists, including easy-flowing renditions of ballads by Musiq Soulchild (“So Beautiful”) and John Legend (“Good Morning”).

True to Glasper’s socially conscious spirit, Covered isn’t all charm, romance and playfulness. Cutting to the heart of the African-American experience, he provides haunting accompaniment to Harry Belafonte’s poignant, autobiographical spoken words on “Got Over.” Glasper then wraps the set by inviting his son Riley and his friends to recite the names of past and present black victims of police shootings on an atmospheric, elegiac cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “I’m Dying of Thirst.” —Jonathan Widran

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