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Glasper is that rare example of a young jazz artist well schooled in the tradition, but still willing to explore the popular music of his contemporariesa versatile talent who has already been heard with artists from Charles Tolliver and Carmen Lundy to Marcus Strickland and Bilal. His debut recording with bassist Bob Hurst and drummer Damion Reid fittingly opens with "Maiden Voyage." The track respectfully recognizes the classic music of Herbie Hancock, who is one of several discernible influences on the leader, but also serves as a forum for modernization in an atmospheric arrangement that features the ethereal voice of hip-hop soul crooner Bilal.
The pianist's lighthearted melody "Tipsy" reveals an affection for the music of Kenny Kirkland but more importantly exhibits an excellent compositional gift and an extraordinary stylistic range as he moves from articulate straight-ahead swinging to fluid parallel octave playing to a very personal sort of spacey staccato stride. He segues seamlessly into a rendition of "Alone Together" that begins with a confident reading of the melody and then proceeds to dissect it into fragments yielding material for experimentation.
The title track is another notable original on which the pianist/composer utilizes the voicing of Mike Moreno's guitar and John Ellis' tenor saxophone to create a quiet intensity. Glasper wrote the words and music to "Don't Close Your Eyes," a plaintive plea featuring Bilal's raspy falsetto that unveils a real talent for popular songwriting. Ironically, perhaps the best example of the high level of his creativity comes not from one of his fine originals, but on his arrangement of the Irving Berlin evergreen "Blue Skies," where he makes the old standard completely his own.
Even the 2:15 hip-hop "Interlude" that follows demonstrates a remarkable melodic gift. His "In Passing" is a surprisingly upbeat lament that reveals a virtuoso approach indebted to Keith Jarrett while expressing an optimistic outlook that is an unmistakable aspect of his own music. The concluding "L.N.K. Blues" is a blowing session augmenting the trio with the battling tenor saxophones of Ellis and Marcus Strickland, on which the pianist shows off his hard bop chops, illustrating emphatically he can do it all.
Track Listing: Maiden Voyage; Lil Tipsy; Alone Together; Mood; Don't Close Your Eyes; Blue Skies; Interlude; In Passing; L.N.K Blues.
Personnel: Robert Glasper- piano, Bob Hurst- bass, Damion Reid- drums, Mike Moreno- guitar (track 4), John Ellis- tenor saxophone (tracks 4, 9), Marcus Strickland- tenor saxophone (track 9)
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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