Robert Glasper Experiment
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Robert Glasper Experiment

New York City, New York, United States | MAJOR

New York City, New York, United States | MAJOR
Band R&B Jazz




"The Versatile Sides of Robert Glasper"

It is popular for artists to say that their music defies genre labels. They insist that their music exists separate from simplified categories such as: hip hop, country, or R&B. Contrary to that trend jazz pianist Robert Glasper does not shy away from his jazz roots and affiliation. Over the last decade Glasper has developed a unique sound that has allowed him to perform with everyone from soul singer Maxwell to pop star Kanye West.

As a learned jazz musician who grew up playing in Houston churches and listening to hip hop he sees jazz as “an improvised version of what’s going on around me.” His wealth of musical influences and experience is what allowed him to drop the Ahmad Jamal piano sample made famous in De La Soul’s “Stakes is High” into his 2009 version of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.” Rather than sounding gimmicky, Glasper’s use of jazz as a medium through which to unite his musical influences gives his take on jazz a freshness that is hard to ignore.

I recently spoke with the personable Glasper during a brief pit stop back home to Brooklyn. He had just finished performing with his experimental group, The RCDC Experiment, at Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and he was prepping to leave and perform in Japan. But the brief trips home and the constant travel are Glasper’s new normal. He and two of the members of the RCDC Experiment (drummer Chris Dave and bassist Derrick Hodge) spent large stretches of the past year as members of the band supporting singer Maxwell’s highly successful BLACKsummer’s Night Tour. Not content to just play with the singer, often RCDC used their open dates around the country to set up “impromptu jam sessions.” I caught one of these gigs last year in Atlanta. There was no set list, but the RCDC Experiment spent nearly two hours exploring new interpretations of Dilla beats and classic songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Cant Help It.” It was one of those shows that required a listener who was willing to follow the musicians because it was not about the destination of the music, but about the journey.

Although Glasper grew up playing gospel, classical, and jazz, he’s had a love for diverse genres of music. Then, in the late 1990s, he moved to New York City for college. He could not have picked a better time to move. He settled in a Brooklyn neighborhood that was teeming with successful hip hop/soul artists including Bilal Oliver, Common, Erykah Badu, Mos Def and others. His work with them and legendary producer J Dilla built his reputation as a jazz pianist with strong hip hop sensibilities. Naturally, when it was Glasper’s turn to release his album, many of his talented friends returned the favor. As a lover of melody and vocalists Glasper sees no need to compete with the artists featured on his music. He understands that their presence helps him reach an even larger audience with his music. With his ego in check, Glasper explains, “I don’t feel the need to prove anything. I just want to make good music.”

Glasper realized his musical vision by forming two complementary ensembles. The Robert Glasper Trio provides straight ahead jazz while the RCDC Experiment is continually stretches the boundaries of jazz. The RCDC Experiment allows Glasper to combine various music styles seamless. It is where Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” sound as if they were meant to be united on the same track. For Glasper that is precisely the point: to create a space where various musical styles can integrate and “make babies.”

Glasper aims to be the “soundtrack of your thoughts.” Equally capable of displaying the technical prowess of Art Tatum or the melodic creativity of Herbie, Glasper sole musical goal is to create “good music.” He explains that the means by which he achieves that goal is not nearly as important as the fact that he creates music that people enjoy. In his own performance a entire song may go by without a piano solo. Or upon listening to his Grammy-nominated song “All Matter” you may be so focused on singing along with Bilal on the chorus, that you may not realize the harmonic complexity Glasper has laid underneath. It is all by design. Glasper is not interested in overwhelming the listener with technical ability, but rather seeks balance between complexity and simplicity in his music. In a lesson learned from playing in churches he says that, “When you cloud a song with too much stuff, you block the spirit from coming in.”

Disinterested in boundaries imposed on jazz by the “jazz police,” Glasper is focused on allowing his sound to evolve and continue to reflect what is going on around him. As a native Houstonian, a Brooklynite, a father, a world traveler, and a hip hop fan, there is no shortage of plenty of activity around him. Yet in between gigs and collaborations, the 32-year-old Glasper is working on his fourth album (scheduled to be released in early 2012 on Blue Note). I asked him what listeners can expect on his yet to be titled project, he replied “lots of cameos.” The list of featured artists is a venerable roster of vocalists that includes: Ledisi, and Lalah Hathaway, and the up and coming trio KING.

In an age where pop music that is catchy and danceable is the most successful, Glasper has created a space among young artists for his own interpretation of jazz. His philosophy of jazz as a medium that has always and should continue to evolve has allowed him to follow the lead of jazz greats Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Branford Marsalis who saw strength in the music’s ability to incorporate what was going on around it. Glasper notes that if Usher wanted to break out into a blues in the middle of a concert, his fans might think he was crazy. Glasper treasures the creative freedom he has as a jazz musician. He has created a space for himself where he does not have to choose between straight ahead an experimental music or between jazz and hip hop. For him jazz is the limitless musical reflection of his life. Wherever he goes next, his music will follow. - The Revivalist - Fredara Mareva

"Musician Robert Glasper Tests Jazz Music Limits"

Synthesizing Electronica and Hip Hop are often heard in his music

Pianist Robert Glasper and Taylor McFerrin are part of a group of young musicians who are reshaping the look, feel, and sound of jazz music. Performing at Le Poisson Rouge, in tandem with College Music Journal (CMJ), McFerrin opened with a human beat box performance that put his own drum machine to shame. Glasper, the headliner, with his band The Experiment, opened with futuristic and semi-galactic sounds that swiftly eased into a sweet and jazz infused funk.

Glasper and The Experiment moved the crowd with their expansive synthesis of jazz, hip, hop, and electronica. The music filled the room with moody and melodic chords before taking the audience into the more complex patterns via various original contemporary beats that at times seemed intentionally displaced and out of sync. NPR music journalist John Murph describes Glasper as “a complete musician. He’s as strong rhythmically as he is melodically.”

When the band shifted into a tribute to the late J Dilla, the majority of the crowd seemed to be stuck in a slow and meditative sway. Glasper responded by calling them out, “My bad, I thought there were Dilla fans in here.” At that moment the true fans piped up, responding with various sounds and gestures of affirmation. The most visible were the all-out head-nods and fists in the air. With the energy high and accelerating Glasper asked “Ya'll mind if we stay in Dilla mode?” The crowd responded approvingly and seemed equally pleased with the surprise appearance from singer Bilal.

What distinguishes Glasper adds Murph is that “Robert knows the jazz canon and he also knows the hip hop canon. He plays songs that hip hop heads know, and he plays music that jazz heads know and he does not negate his knowledge of jazz.”

The scene inside of Le Poisson Rouge was a sharp departure from jazz sets whereby listeners are seated upright in suits and evening dresses at round tables in a smoke-filled room. This scene was more reminiscent of a small venue hip hop or Afro-punk performance whereby the audience swarmed the stage and existed as active participants with the performers. The space was packed with true hip hop heads, jazz heads, and CMJ spill over attendees (some of whom seemed to know little about McFerrin or Glasper). Adding to the energy of the night was Harriette Cole and BET who were in the house recording the performance for an upcoming production.

Glasper and his jazz contemporaries are moving into a more mainstream platform and this, states Murph, is due to the “increased accessibility of social media” adding “it’s a paradigm shift, whereby people like Glasper can be heard more.” Fans will hear more from Glasper in just a few months. Before exiting the stage he announced his forthcoming album, set to drop in January, which will feature Bilal, Mint Condition, Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, Ledisi, Musiq Soulchild and more, with each name he read, the fans cheered in anticipation. - Loop 21 - Una-Karim A. Cross

"Mingus via Mos Def"

How American pianist Robert Glasper infuses jazz with a rap-style aesthetic.

Jazz and rap are such natural bedfellows that it seems right that even the names of the genres that best fit together – hip-hop and be-bop – capture the bouncy beats and clattery rhythms that propel both.

Yet it’s a standing puzzle that 30 years of crossovers and fusions have produced only the rare outstanding recording. Even the best recordings never went further than adding rappers and DJs to a live jazz line-up – saxophonists Steve Coleman and Greg Osby stand out – while the worst were content with jazzy wanderings over pre-recorded beats.

There is one standout though. The American pianist Robert Glasper submerges the loops, layers and pulses of studio-crafted rap deep into the innermost workings of his trio. His first album, Mood, released in 2003, flagged up the possibilities of this new approach and won him a contract with Blue Note, with whom he has made three further albums. The latest, 2009’s Double Booked, features both his bands: the acoustic Robert Glasper Trio, and the electric Robert Glasper Experiment.

But it is in live performance that the 33-year-old really shows off his contemporary rhythmic nous. His bands throb with radical techniques that mingle the textures of hip-hop with the interplay of jazz. Add in audience-friendly, cross-genre covers, and it’s small wonder that Glasper’s gigs are crammed with musicians. His forthcoming workshops and Kings Place residency will be a highlight of November’s London Jazz Festival.

Glasper, who lives in New York, has been a frequent visitor to the UK with his acoustic trio, but when I spoke to him he was in London for a residency at Ronnie Scott’s with his other band, the Robert Glasper Experiment. It is this band that he is bringing to the London Jazz Festival. With Casey Benjamin on saxophones, Vocoder and electronics it is even closer to hip-hop in sound and feel.

Glasper was using the Ronnie Scott’s gig to dry-run material for a forthcoming Blue Note recording, and was keen to explain the mechanics of his music. Brushing aside gangsta rap almost as if beneath comment, he got down to the nitty-gritty of bringing the methods of a pre-recorded musical idiom to collectively improvised jazz.
“I try to get the hip-hop aesthetic, most times without an MC,” he said. “I don’t use a rapper or a DJ to give it the hip-hop style, it’s strictly the band that makes that music, which is a lot harder to do.”

For him collective improvisation remains the bedrock. He called his band Experiment, “because we have no idea what’s happening when we go on stage, it’s actually experimenting. We let the music guide us and take us places. We’ll know the first song and after that we kind of just go and see where we fall.”

Those moves are so seamless, though, that they can appear prearranged. But, Glasper explained, “We hit a little segment, and we go round and round, and none of it is planned. It’s very telepathic, very organic.” He leans back in his chair and chuckles.

In some ways, the Glasper approach is a natural extension of a working life that straddles the two worlds. When his first album gained public notice in 2005 – London DJ Gilles Peterson was plugging it on his syndicated radio show – the pianist was working live with his close friend, the R&B singer Bilal. Glasper has been working in New York’s hip-hop and R&B circles ever since: as musical director for the MC and hip-hop artist Mos Def, for example.

But Glasper has sufficient muscle to ensure a parallel jazz career with his own projects and as sideman with established jazz artists. “If you really dissect hip-hop you will find a whole lot of Charles Mingus, Ron Carter, Ahmad Jamal, a lot of classic jazz samples in there,” said Glasper. “My idea was to go full circle. Like hip-hop sampled jazz to make hip-hop, so now I’m a jazz trio sounding like a hip-hop track that sampled jazz.”

Glasper was born in Houston in 1978, about the time the first New York DJs began to rhyme and scratch. His late mother, Kim Yvette Glasper-Dobbs was a professional singer and played piano; soul and gospel were her staples.

“My first memories of life were in rehearsal, that’s why I can sleep through anything. She wasn’t a big advocate of like getting a babysitter,” he said. “I was everywhere with her, even in the clubs. When she was performing on stage she would have waitresses checking on me and stuff when I was like five.”

Although part of the first rap generation and surrounded by music making from such an early age, Glasper came to music late, and hip-hop even later. He remembers fiddling about on the piano, picking out tunes with one finger, when he was about 11. By the time he was 14 he was organist at one of the smaller churches his mother sang at, in front of about 50 people. Two years later, he’d moved on to larger congregations, and, like his mother, wasn’t too fussy about denominations.

“I played piano in a Seventh Day Adventist church on Saturdays and then I played piano for a Catholic church early Sunday morning and then late Sunday morning I played for a Baptist church,” he said. “The church I played for in my senior year in high school was a 10,000 seater. I was 17. I got used to that energy.”

The self-taught Glasper was good enough to pass the audition for Houston’s Visual and Performing Arts High School. The place was something of a hothouse – he followed on the heels of Beyoncé Knowles and jazz musicians such as Jason Moran and Eric Harland – it was here that his understanding of jazz flourished. He also met drummer Chris Dave, who was central to his cross-genre experiments: “He’s always doing something new that people haven’t thought of ... Even just the way he sets up the drums.”

His core style, though, was still in flux. His main focus was jazz and his main piano influences were Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. His strongest influence, Herbie Hancock, along with his understanding of hip-hop, came when he graduated from Houston and moved on to Manhattan’s New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music.

There, Glasper met professionals who taught from experience rather than the curriculum. Some of them had even played with Charlie Parker. “It’s not contrived teaching,” said Glasper. “It’s something really open, but they come more from the kick-your-butt standpoint.”

Glasper also forged the relationships that led to his discovery of hip-hop, in particular, his friendship with Bilal. The vocalist dropped out in his second year when he got a record deal; Glasper stayed, but worked on the recording where he met the producer J Dilla, as well as Mos Def and fellow MC Common. Glasper gave Common basic piano lessons and through that met the MC’s flatmate, the singer Erykah Badu. For a global music, hip-hop revolves in very tight circles.

For nearly a decade now Glasper has been an insider in both jazz and hip-hop. “Jazz used to be the hippest music. Now it’s the music that every one’s like, ‘What’s that?’ It’s looked at as history, it’s not looked at as modern music.” His solution is to “emulate that part of hip-hop, but we give it more jazz intellectualism”.

“But,” he added after a pause, “with a head nod.” - Financial Times - Mike Hobart


Black Radio (Blue Note 2012)
Double Booked (Blue Note 2009)
In My Element (Blue Note 2007)
Canvas (Blue Note 2005)
Mood (Blue Note 2004)



On February 28, 2012, Robert Glasper Experiment will release Black Radio, a future landmark album that boldly stakes out new musical territory and transcends any notion of genre, drawing from jazz, hip hop, R&B and rock, but refusing to be pinned down by any one tag. The first full-length album from the GRAMMY-nominated keyboardist’s electric Experiment band—saxist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Chris Dave—Black Radio also features many of Glasper’s famous friends from the spectrum of urban music, seamlessly incorporating appearances from a jaw-dropping roll call of special guests including Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, Shafiq Husayn (Sa-Ra), KING, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Stokley Williams (Mint Condition).

Throughout the Experiment wears its eclecticism on its sleeve, presenting new collaborative originals and surprising cover songs. They transform the Afro-Cuban standard “Afro Blue” with Erykah Badu, Sade’s “Cherish The Day” with Lalah Hathaway, David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermione” with Bilal, and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Casey Benjamin’s vocoder vocal.

Glasper has long kept one foot planted firmly in jazz and the other in hip hop. His gig at the Blue Note Jazz Club earlier this year became a freestyle jam session when Kanye West, Mos Def and Lupe Fiasco crashed the stage. The Los Angeles Times once wrote that “it's a short list of jazz pianists who have the wherewithal to drop a J Dilla reference into a Thelonious Monk cover, but not many jazz pianists are Robert Glasper,” adding that “he's equally comfortable in the worlds of hip-hop and jazz,” and praising the organic way in which he “builds a bridge between his two musical touchstones.”