Sunday, 6 April 2008

Robert Glasper...

Also appearing at this year's Gateshead International Jazz Festival was Robert Glasper. Now something of a phenomenon, at the time I reviewed this CD in 2003 I only had first impressions to go by. I wouldn't call it prophecy, but by and large I think my review is pretty realistic and I give myself some credit for at least being able to identify the 'real deal' when I hear it.

I didn't of course go to the Glasper gig at the festival - he clashed with Alexander von Schlippenbach - but would have liked to. I managed to catch him with Wallace Roney's electric-Miles inspired project a few years back, but if the trajectory of steady improvement in his work is continuing at the same rate, I imagine the Gateshead show would have been quite a gig.


Maiden Voyage; Lil Tipsy; Alone Together; Mood; Don’t Close Your Eyes; Blue Skies; Interlude; In Passing; L.N.K. Blues

John Ellis (ts); Marcus Strickland (ts); Robert Glasper (p); Mike Moreno (g); Robert Hurst (b); Damion Reed (d); Bilal (voc). Recorded 5/00.

Fresh out of Manhattan’s New Music school, 23 year-old pianist Robert Glasper enters the arena as a technically gifted musician striving courageously to lay down the markers of a personal voice. Convincingly playing the lexicon of post-Hancock, Evans, Tyner, Corea and Jarrett with ease, Glasper’s willingness to take chances make this more than just another debut by a young hopeful.

Mood could hardly have a more audacious start, with a hauntingly rhapsodic re-working of ‘Maiden Voyage’, composed of course by the unfairly maligned (in these pages at least) Herbie Hancock. Glasper’s trio take the piece apart, while the wordless and erotically charged vocals of Bilal Oliver float serenely atop. What impresses me most about Glasper, other than his ready sense of adventure, is the patient way in which he explores ideas over extended durations without overplaying his abundant technique. Apart from the impact of the arresting opener, it is the trio tracks, solidly underpinned by the bass of near-veteran Robert Hurst, which showcase Glasper’s conception to best advantage.

The marvellous ‘Blue Skies’, where the three truly break free, is convincing evidence that something special is at work. The two larger group pieces ‘Mood’ and ‘L.N.K. Blues’ are rather anonymous in comparison, though the two tenor chase sequence on the latter does at least provide a memorable finale. ‘Don’t Close your Eyes’ is another feature for Bilal, who normally traverses rap and R&B terrain. There’s much to admire about a lot of today’s genuinely underground hip hop, but perhaps the kindest thing to say about Bilal’s delivery in this context is that he interprets lyrics in an unusual and highly personal way.

Given the vast pool of music school graduates with chops to spare, Glasper’s breakthrough will depend as much on luck and good marketing as on his ability. With maturity well beyond his years, and Bilal’s appearance likely to court valuable crossover exposure, he stands a chance and I wish him well.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2003)

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