John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com
Drummer Johnathan Blake, pictured backstage at the Village Vanguard, has released a new album featuring Robert Glasper on three tracks.
Drummer Johnathan Blake, pictured backstage at the Village Vanguard, has released a new album featuring Robert Glasper on three tracks. John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com
I'm here to write about Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding again, and I'm not done after this post either. The mainstream attention they are receiving — tonight, Spalding is on Letterman, and Glasper is on Leno, for instance — is worth taking a deep look at. But before going there, I do want to mention that on the same day Glasper's much-celebrated Black Radio was publicly issued, this also came out:
This track is from drummer Johnathan Blake's new release, The Eleventh Hour. Glasper plays on three songs, including this one — his own composition "Canvas" — but it's Blake's date as a leader, and Blake's group (on this track it's Mark Turner on sax, Ben Street on bass and Gregoire Maret on harmonica). Fans of modern jazz will find a lot that's familiar here: An acoustic instrumental composition with an interactive rhythm section, a dialogue between soloists and their support, a drummer who keeps time on the ride cymbal but mixes in all sorts of other colorful accents, etc. Blake, a very busy drummer based in the New York City area, spoke to WBGO's The Checkout if you'd like to find out more about him.
While Glasper and Spalding were developing the conversing-with-pop-radio music on their new records, they were also playing this sort of music. The same piano-bass-drums unit of the Robert Glasper Experiment plays acoustic on saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III's To Those Who Believe, released in late 2010; Glasper and Experiment drummer Chris Dave also play on bassist Robert Hurst's trio album Unrehurst, Vol. 2 from earlier in 2010. (Unrehurst, with its standards and blues and ding-ding-a-ling swing, is unmistakably post-bebop jazz.) Spalding has played bass on the last two albums (Bird Songs, Folk Art) from tenor sax giant Joe Lovano, and you'll hear her also on two recent trio albums (Reencontro, Duende) by pianist Nando Michelin. In fact, Spalding's first record Junjo is scored for piano, drums, bass and her (often wordless) voice, similar to how Glasper's early records are anchored by his core piano-bass-drums trios.
Also consider that this is merely recorded evidence, not really reflective of the night-after-night schedule of an in-demand jazz musician. Before they were making their pop influences super-explicit, and afforded recording budgets to do so, Glasper and Spalding were learning the ground rules and nuances of this improvised, grooving, mostly instrumental music — what many call "jazz."
Especially when you consider this history, jazz's common-practice modern mainstream feels somehow foundational to the new recordings from Glasper and Spalding. It's hard to write in words how that plays out in sound, but that subject is for another post.
Related At NPR Music: Spalding was the subject of a recent NPR interview. A favorite excerpt that's relevant to the idea of being a jazz sideman:
You know, I'm always surrounded all day and all night, and every time I get involved in anything, by my peers, my colleagues, my mentors, these people that I live and breathe what they do. I live and breathe their teaching. I live and breathe their playing. So, just to really clarify, you know, it's not like you're pursuing something on your own ... So, just to be clear, I really want to break down the myth of the solo career.