The summer of 2009 marked my second year of taking guitar lessons and studying music. To that point, my primary influences for wanting to play guitar was much of the music I heard in church, on gospel radio, and contemporary R&B. My guitar teacher, who, himself, had grown up learning guitar through the eras of Hendrix, Santana, and Miles Davis had begun to rub off on me, and the musical palette I developed as a child was beginning to expand.
Around the same time, thanks to the technological advances of the early 2000s, my Godbrother, Gary, shared an album with me on my Sony Walkman MP3 player. This is like peak-MP3, early post-CD, and pre-streaming era. Gary’s suggestion for the album came from him having come across a CD at his High School’s library, and that he thought I would like it. That album that he shared with me was Robert Glasper’s, In My Element, his third album recorded with his acoustic trio. In My Element felt like an album written for me – it was jazz, but it also was R&B; and gospel; and Hip-Hop. In My Element spoke my language and introduced me to new ones. The album featured original tunes – G&B, F.T.B., Beatrice, Silly Rabbit, and a tribute to the late Mulgrew Miller; a medley of gospel songs, including hymns Great Is Thy Faithfulness and Blessed Assurance; Smokie Norful’s I Need You Now; Tye Tribbett’s G.A. Hymn (Who Else but God). In My Element also featured a marriage of two unlikely candidates, between Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and Radiohead’s Everything In Its Place, and toward the end of the album, a voice recorded message from Q-Tip comes on imploring Glasper and his trio to play some J Dilla, but trio style.
In My Element showed me the possibilities of jazz – what it can be and what it can sound like; it showed introduced me to Herbie Hancock, Radiohead and J Dilla, and they became a part of my musical language. For me, In My Element was the preamble for what was to come.
On August 25, 2009 Robert Glasper released his 4th studio album, Double Booked, a double disc album featuring his acoustic trio (Glasper – Piano, Vicente Archer – Upright Bass, and Chris Dave – Drums), and his electric band, The Experiment (Glasper – Rhodes Piano, Derrick Hodge – Electric Bass, Casey Benjamin – Alto Saxophone and Vocoder, Chris Dave – Drums). On the album’s cover, Glasper is standing outside of a taxi cab in New York City, holding his phone to his ear, with a look of concern on his face, as if he’s rushing between gigs. To this point, Glasper was known for his work with his trio, and as a supporting musician for a number of other artists, most of which were straight ahead, acoustic jazz. However, Double Booked marks a departure from what many believed to be their idea of Robert Glasper and introduced Glasper as a composer and artist that was equally adept at varying styles of music. Double Booked is an artist at a bridge of possibility, and a gateway to a new world of sound.
Double Booked begins with a voicemail from jazz trumpeter, Terrence Blanchard calling to make sure Robert Glasper and his acoustic trio were still available to play at his club. With a sound of confusion in his voice, Blanchard noted he heard that Glasper had been playing shows in the city with his electric band and wanted to confirm that Glasper would be available for his club with his acoustic trio, and not his Experimental band.
After introducing the band, fittingly, the first song we hear is Glasper’s No Worries, an up-tempo song, with a melody played in the key of E flat major, that feels like the perfect response to Blanchard’s voicemail and many others questioning the direction Glasper was taking with his music. Glasper follows No Worries with two songs that are equally an homage to his native of Houston, Texas, as well as his personal identity in Yes, I’m Country (And That’s OK), a song whose composition is reminiscent of Bruce Hornsby and The Range, with its rolling melody that begins in B major but slowly transitions into D minor and modulates several times, and 59 South named for the highway that travels through Houston. Glasper closes the first side of the album with a cover of Thelonious Monk’s Think of One, which begins with Glasper feverishly playing through the song’s chord progression, switches for a brief moment to a Vaudeville-like style of playing, then resolves to a slowed down progression concluding with two dissonant hits aided by drummer, Chris Dave. And in true Chris Dave and Robert Glasper fashion, Monk’s tune, originally written in 1954, got a new Hip-Hop swing to it.
On side 2, a disoriented Glasper picks up his phone, and with a heavy breath says he needs to check his messages. Glasper has another voicemail, this time its Questlove saying he heard the trio was getting down, but wanted to invite Glasper’s Experimental band to a Roots Jam Session. Similar to Blanchard, Questlove was inquiring with Glasper to make sure the Experiment was still available, and jokingly made a special request for the “advanced trigonometry” they do.
Using his grand piano and a Fender Rhodes, Glasper begins the second side of his album with a cover of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly, as Derrick Hodge’s pulsating bass is in locked step with Chris Dave’s kick drum, and Casey Benjamin’s vocoder soars over the instruments, making for a beautiful marriage of sound and rhythm. After Butterfly, The Experiment transition into their original composition, Festival, a 10-minute tour de force: Chris Dave is driving the tempo, Casey Benjamin’s Alto Saxophone, aided by effects, is playing each lead line with Glasper in unison, and Derrick Hodge’s bass is as funky as anyone could imagine. Then, taking the lead vocals with his vocoder, Casey Benjamin and the Experiment slowed the tempo down for an R&B ballad, For You.
In addition to the members of the Robert Glasper Experiment, there have also been a number of associates working with the collective, in particular Bilal and Yasiin Bey. Side 2 features a cover of All Matter, a song written by Bilal. Without a doubt, The Experiment’s performance of All Matter is one of the standout moments from the album. Bilal, like Glasper, is equally adept in traditional jazz and R&B arenas. Pondering the divine and the carnal, Bilal’s lyrics presents both tension and resolve. And the beauty of their collective performance is that the song never shows its hand too early, each verse builds slowly, and ultimately crescendos into a refrain of Bilal reminding the listener, “it’s all matter.”
The Experiment close out the album with Open Mind, a contemplative song whose sole lyric is “be.” Though the song builds with intensity, the centrality of the songs remains – be. One could imagine that Open Mind is a charge to the listener to remain open to the many possibilities and imaginations of what can be. Or, possibly, for those listening and worried that Glasper wasn’t “doing jazz” right.
Glasper’s Double Booked boldly speaks to a twoness to what some may perceive to be the boundaries of genre, as well as the world of possibility that exists when an artist is operating in a liberated state. Double Booked rids itself of genre, and shows the connection between the varying iterations of Black American Music.
10 years after its release it’s clear to see the album’s influence and the direction Glasper was going in. Three years later, in 2012, The Robert Glasper Experiment released Black Radio, an album that synthesized Glasper’s many influences in a cohesive manner, and showed the range of Black American Music. While Black Radio gets much of the recognition when Glasper is mentioned, and rightfully so, we have Double Booked to thank for Glasper’s sound and his fearless approach to music.