If there were a Mount Rushmore of Jazz artists it would probably include figures such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie, give or take a few others. Their influence and impact on modern jazz, and popular music at large, is still present, but one may raise the question: where does Jazz stand in 2016? One of the forerunners in constructing the sound of today’s Jazz is Robert Glasper. But he's not playing your grandfather's jazz; it's fresh, it's new, it's hip-hop, it's rock. In short, it's jazz. On Tuesday, December 22nd, Robert Glasper brought his 4-piece genre-bending band – The Robert Glasper Experiment (RGE) – to Philadelphia’s World Live Café.
Glasper’s never been shy about the music that’s influenced him. From his early releases, which featured his Jazz trio, to his genre-bending experimental albums, his influences stretch from Herbie Hancock to Radiohead. Glasper’s set began with a medley of songs that he’s covered, and been featured on, over the years. Flowing seamlessly from song-to-song, the opening medley consisted of a groovy Sade’s “Cherish The Day,” sung on Vocoder by Casey Benjamin; Herbie Hancock’s“Maiden Voyage,” Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place,” both being much quieter, piano-only instrumental pieces; and lastly, Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much A Dollar Cost,” with a full band accompaniment, and the hook sung by Casey Benjamin. Throughout the opening medley one could feel the emotional energy in the room changing with each movement in music, from head bobbing to the locked bassline/drum combo played by Burniss Earl Travis (bass) and Mark Colenburg (drums) on Cherish The Day, to a more somber and reflective mood on How Much A Dollar Cost. The medleys didn’t stop there. RGE would go on to play Musiq Soulchild’s “So Beautiful” into a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” as the audience responded by singing along, with some chuckling.
Customary for any RGE show, Glasper set aside time to pay homage to the late Producer, DJ, and MC, J Dilla. To begin the tribute, Burniss Earl Travis opened by playing the infectious bassline to Bilal’s “Reminisce,” produced by J Dilla. And who better to sing the lead vocal part than Bilal? Needless to say, to the crowd’s surprise, out walks the Philly-born soul singer Bilal! Bilal’s guest appearance was easily one of the highlights of the show.
Continuing with the show, Glasper made sure he remained engaged with audience, often telling jokes, his creative process and stories of how songs came to be.
Before leaving the stage Glasper made sure to recognize, and thank, James Poyser – the Philadelphia based producer, pianist, songwriter, member of the Roots – who was in attendance, for his work in helping to construct the sound that would come to be known as “neo-soul.” A sound which Robert Glasper has almost single handedly revived for younger generations. Glasper’s music has been pivotal to the progression of Jazz, even though some would argue the genre is dead. Glasper’s playing has helped shape the sound of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” and many other off shoot sounds.
Keyboards: Robert Glasper
Vocoder/Saxophones: Casey Benjamin
Drums: Mark Colenberg
Bass: Burniss Earl Travis