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Robert Glasper: Canvas

Chris May By

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Hallelujah! Another exciting young pianist emerges to take the classic piano trio tradition forward. This is Robert Glasper's second album—the first was Mood (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003)—and at just 26, he is already cooking.

The marketing thrust which accompanies this album makes much of Glasper's supposed membership of the hip-hop massive. Truth is, he's got the locks, and he's the right age, but his music is firmly—gloriously—in the Tyner/Hancock/Jarrett tradition: harmonically and melodically rich, rhythmically virile, and focused on in-the-moment improv. Still, if a little freestyle association helps launch Glasper's career, bring it on.

The album opens with the leader's "Rise And Shine," taken at a blinding gallop and a convincing demonstration of his prodigious technique; this is Blue Note after all, which has established serious pianistic benchmarks. But the first of several truly great tracks comes next with "Canvas," another original (Glasper wrote all the tunes here execpt Hancock's "Riot"). There's a modern-day Charles Lloyd feel to the tune, the sound of guest tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and the band's opening approach—pensive, elliptical, almost hesitant—and then, after a couple of minutes (it's a ten-minute track), drummer Damion Reid kicks in and things get hot and visceral and further out.

Reid's contribution is in fact absolutely key to the success of this album. He's a busy, busy, almost Baroque, drummer, who does a heap more than simply keep things moving—constantly interacting with the front line, embellishing, commenting, augmenting. He drives things forward with powerful energy, without ever grandstanding or being bombastic. He and Glasper make a fine double act, which bassist Vicente Archer complements with his more measured, metronomic lines. And OK, yes, there is at times a touch of hip-hop in Reid's drumming.

There are some lovely ballads—notably "Enoch's Meditation" and "Remember"—and a strong reading of "Riot," with Turner back on tenor and Glasper on Fender Rhodes (to which he brings almost Jimmy Smith/B3 textures at times).

A beautiful balance of energy, momentum, and melody, Canvas announces the arrival of a new keyboard star-in-the-making, and a burning new trio. Wonderful stuff.


Track Listing: Rise And Shine; Canvas; Portrait Of An Angel; Enoch's Meditation; Centelude; Jelly's Da Beener; Chant; Riot; North Portland; I Remember.

Personnel: Robert Glasper: piano, Fender Rhodes, kalimba; Vicente Archer: bass; Damion Reid: drums. Mark Turner: tenor saxophone (2,8); Bilal: vocals (7,10).

Title: Canvas | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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