From a jazz standpoint, pianist Robert Glasper has made his mark in the bands of Russell Malone, Terrence Blanchard, Charles Tolliver and Christian McBride, while his presence alongside soul and hip-hop artists like Q-Tip, Mos Def, Kanye West and MeShell Ndegeocello reveals the kind of cross-cultural fertilization that many of the younger generation of musicians deal with as a matter of course.
As Bruce Eaton, the producer for the Art of Jazz series at the Albright-Knox, noted in his preconcert talk, to young jazz musicians brought up with easy access to rock and hip-hop music, "Life is a mix tape." Glasper touched on that issue in an interview he did with Ted Panken for jazz.com when he said, "What makes my trio different, I think, is that we tap into the hip-hop side, and most piano trios don't do that, and do it back and forth." Glasper's sidemen, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg, hold to the same values and have also worked with major players from all over the hip-hop and jazz spectrums.
During Sunday afternoon's concert, the trio was equally at home taking snippets from jazz standards like "Stella by Starlight" and "Misty" and then tossing them into a sonic mix that, over the course of nearly two hours, included beats drawn from the repertoire of legendary Detroit-based hip-hop producer J Dilla, the main theme from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and a slice of Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream." It was a virtually seamless performance by the group, segueing from one tune and/or melody to the next for 30 to 40 minutes at a stretch.
But these guys were having fun with each other and the audience. It was a sly, in-joke kind of fun that, by the end of the concert, included the crowd to the point where the spoken line "What'd you say your name was?" that Glasper kept needling Hodge and Colenburg with was shouted from people in the seats whenever Glasper feigned having a momentary memory loss.
Glasper was very, very good, his fingers rippling over the keys one moment and stabbing at them the next, setting the pace and tone of the sets with nods, winks and broad smiles that were matched by the rhythm section whenever they got on the same page and figured out where the music was going to go next. Every solo, no matter who took it, was a joy to hear and, after a lengthy encore set, the audience in attendance stood up and gave the musicians their due.
Robert Glasper Trio
Sunday afternoon as part of the Art of Jazz Series in Albright-Knox Art Gallery.