The line on Robert Glasper recently is that he's a jazz musician who also works intensely with top hip-hop and R&B artists: Maxwell, Q-Tip, Mos Def and so forth. That narrative came to the fore around the time of his 2009 album Double Booked, which showcased his ability to fuse his distinct aesthetics. But he's still very much a jazz pianist, committed to the improvising community. Glasper is a fount of supple, flowing lines, and his piano trio is a shape-shifting, communicative unit.
His group certainly passes muster at that New York jazz bastion, the Village Vanguard. WBGO and NPR Music were there to record the Robert Glasper Trio in concert, in a live radio broadcast and simultaneous webcast on Wednesday, Dec. 8. Revisit this page for the live streaming audio and the archived recording.
Glasper is a ruminative pianist, often letting sostenuto melodies simmer with a few extra grace notes or broken arpeggios for color, probing his way through moody harmonies. In concert, his trio is highly flexible, apt to change directions or follow tangents on a mid-song whim. In his opening tune, he quoted two Christmas songs, and at least one J. Dilla beat. Elsewhere, he dedicated one song to the recently ailing piano giant Mulgrew Miller, took on a late '60s Herbie Hancock tune and crowd-sourced his last number, the original "Yes I'm Country (And That's OK)."
His concept works because he always picks out musicians who can follow and add feedback effortlessly. Also participating in the gig were Vicente Archer, his longtime associate on bass, and Jamire Williams, who commands a wide percussive vocabulary at a young age.
Originally, Glasper hails from Houston; he found his way to New York to study music in college. But the first close friend he made was the soul singer Bilal, then a fellow jazz student. So while Glasper was learning straight-ahead jazz, he was also accruing professional opportunities in the world of hip-hop and neo-soul. Prospects have improved for him in both veins since then; when he wasn't promoting Double Booked, his third album for Blue Note Records, he was on the road with the singer Maxwell.
He may be of two musical worlds, but Glasper commands the highest respect in each. Not all pianists can book a residency at the Village Vanguard, but this broadcast marked his second week at the club this year.
- "G&B" (Glasper)
- "One For 'Grew" (Glasper)
- "I Have A Dream" (Hancock)
- "[Unknown]" (Glasper)
- "Yes I'm Country (And That's OK)" (Glasper)
- Robert Glasper, piano
- Vicente Archer, bass
- Jamire Williams, drums
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, mix engineer
- Garrett Nichols, production assistant
- Simon Rentner, production assistant
- Michael Downes, production assistant
- Lara Pellegrinelli, moderator