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Robert Glasper opened this packed club date by asking the audience to “pretend it’s a rap gig” while he worried at the four chords of the opening melody. While some of the audience whooped obligingly, the older jazzheads nodded silently, appreciating the young pianist’s instrumental dexterity and harmonic foundation.
Glasper takes the cut-and-paste rhythms and loops of hip-hop and contemporary R’n’B as a basis for collective, in-the-moment, acoustic jazz-making. And though he wrings every last drop of harmonic variation from the simple structures he uses, the outstanding feature of Glasper’s trio is the dazzling interplay between piano and drums. Quickfire clusters of single notes draw a responding rattle from the snare, edgy, unpredictable silences are dropped in to the mix, and swing, Latin and hip-hop grooves are switched seemingly at random without missing a beat – even more impressive when the time signature is a fast seven-four. At times, drummer Chris Dave and Glasper construct such a complex and private rhythmic world of staggered beats and fluttering cymbals that the steady, understated bass of Vincente Archer is all that holds it together.
Glasper is adept at juxtaposing his insider’s knowledge of contemporary urban music – he has worked with rappers Mos Def and Q-Tip – with snippets of jazz history. A nagging double-time high-hat may support a florid, harmonised ballad in the style of Errol Garner or a steady rock pulse support a skittling fragment of avant-garde theatrics. His immediate influence is referenced in an oblique reading of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”, which is tied to Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place”.
In both sets an extended up-tempo rhythmic extravaganza was followed by ruminating balladry and introspection. The first ended with Glasper’s heartfelt accompaniment to a recording of the eulogy at his mother’s funeral, the second with a homage to the late hip-hop pioneer J Dilla. In spite of these sombre endings, it was Glasper’s playful humour and the rhythmic panache of drummer Chris Dave that really defined the evening.
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