Robert Glasper's successful experiment

Genre-blurring jazz group amazes at Tralf Music Hall

On October 7, 2012

  • The Robert Glasper Experiment is influenced by genres that range from indie rock to modern hip-hop. The result is a genre-bending form of jazz, as seen in the band’s performance Saturday at Tralf. Courtesy of Robert Glasper

Hip-hop - jazz's spiritual brother - has constantly transformed on its way to mainstream consciousness. In rock, yesterday's Velvet Underground is today's Strokes.

Jazz hasn't moved past its '50-'60s heyday. That's why record producer Robert Glasper believes the genre needs a "big-ass slap."

His latest album, the critically acclaimed Black Radio, samples Nirvana and David Bowie with ease. Fans got a chance to enjoy his band's versatility Saturday when it played at the Tralf Music Hall.

Glasper is one of few jazz artists who possess the raw musical prowess to appeal to older age groups while still having the hip credibility to draw a college-age group. His past collaborations - Kanye West, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) and Erykah Badu, among others -only strengthen that credibility.

It's hard to put Glasper in the jazz category considering how many genres his band, the Robert Glasper Experiment, covers.

The Robert Glasper Experiment consists of Glasper, multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Cullenberg. Even though the term "experiment" is in the band's name, the quartet specializes in blending its favorite music into fluid, almost natural jazzy numbers while also creating its own compositions.

"We recreate songs that we remember or we like," Glasper said. "We might [mess] around and play Boyz II Men. That's our life, our generation. We play Floetry. We play Bjork. We play Radiohead. That's our generation. A lot of people would be like, 'Oh my God, y'all are the future.' It's like 'no, we're just now.'"

Black Radioalso has hip-hop numbers - such as "Always Shine" featuring Lupe Fiasco and singer Bilal, and "Black Radio" featuring Yasiin Bey. Some fans believed compositions like these should've drawn more young adults to the concert. However, mostly middle age and elderly fans filled the Tralf.

 The absence of a younger crowd may be an example of the stagnant state of jazz, according to Glasper.

"Jazz can't compete with any other music because it's not modern. It's not hip enough. It's been stuck in the '60s for so long that they're behind," Glasper said. "R&B music, they embraced Chris Brown. They embrace Usher. They embrace any new artist that comes around. They're not shoving Marvin Gaye down your throat ... They embrace younger music and allow change to happen. That's why jazz is far behind. We shot ourselves in the foot; it's not the audience's [fault]."

Age didn't stop the audience from cheering with childlike joy as the Robert Glasper Experiment played through its set. Hip-hop fans applauded at the quartet's rendition of "Breakadawn," while others became enthralled by the band's rendition of Sade's "Cherish the Day."

Shondra Cabrera, 41, of Buffalo, has been to two other Glasper concerts. She still found herself amazed by the night's performance. When Benjamin crooned the hook to neo-soul classic "Say Yes" (by Floetry) on his vocoder, Cabrera was one of the many females to stand up in excitement.

The musical peak seemed to be another moment of the band's spontaneity - a trait that kept Cabrera interested.

"I like that Robert Glasper plays around like he's a kid," Cabrera said. "We don't know what's going on. I don't think his band knows what's going on half of the time."Glasper's playful attitude lightened the audience's mood. The term 'experiment' usually calls for a more abrasive artistry to challenge the audience. The quartet's musicianship was only inviting to the crowd.

Glasper jovially engaged the crowd between some songs - the keyboardist jokingly asked the crowd what's next on the set list, prompting a man to request fan favorite "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

"No ... I got you later, though," Glasper responded jokingly.

Glasper didn't steal the spotlight from his bandmates, as they all had a chance to impress the audience. Benjamin had fans roaring with his saxophone solo in "Cherish the Day." Cullenberg and Hodge received equally loud responses to their solos, too.

Some fans were more satisfied with the band members' raw instrumentals than the songs they were covering. Wylie Horton, 63, of Buffalo, didn't know the Robert Glasper Experiment's opening song was a cover of Radiohead's "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box," but he was elated once Glasper started his keyboard solo.

"It's all about good music and that's what I enjoy," Horton said.

The audience gave the Robert Glasper Experiment a standing ovation when the band ended its performance with "All Matter" (off 2009's Double Booked). It was the end of just one performance in a two-month long East Coast tour.

The Robert Glasper Experiment will be releasing a six-track remix EP of Black Radio - featuring the likes of producers Pete Rock and 9th Wonder - on Tuesday. The quartet is working on a follow-up to Black Radio slated for a 2013 release.



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