Robert Glasper's New Album Is Not Jazz. Who Cares?
Thirty-three-year-old Robert Glasper has been putting out fairly straight-forward jazz records since the mid-'00s. Last month, however, Houston-bred, New York-based pianist released a R&B and hip-hop indebted album, Black Radio, under the moniker the Robert Glasper Experiment. This has some jazz fans feeling left out.
"I like Robert Glasper's new CD," tweeted critic Ted Gioia. "But it has about as much jazz content as the Utah Jazz."
Glasper's last release, 2009's Double-Booked, was split evenly between his acoustic jazz trio and the electrified, beat-heavy Experiment. So it shouldn't come as too much of a shock that Glasper has dedicated both metaphorical sides of his newest album to his experimental project. What seems to surprise (disappoint?) people is his bid for commercial success.
Black Radio is a jazz album -- in instrumentation, anyway -- with piano, bass and drums at its core. But it also prominently features Casey Benjamin's vocoder and a boatload of radio-friendly guest vocalists like Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def. We're guessing that's what makes it not jazz-friendly, right?
See also: Erykah Badu - The Wiltern - 12/8/11
Half of the tracks are originals while the other half consists of an eclectic mix of covers (Sade, Bowie, Nirvana) and a lone standard ("Afro Blue"). But probably the biggest missing jazz element is
any much in the way of instrumental solos. Instead the album is a slow-burning collection of modern R&B by a jazz musician, released by Blue Note, a jazz label. It prompted The New York Times to ask: "is it jazz?"
And frankly, the answer is no, not really. But the more important question is: Who cares?