If there is a genre of music out there due a revival of sorts, it is jazz. An area of music that produced monumental talents such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the recently departed Ornette Coleman somehow became a pastiche, a parody and elevator music. However, in recent years, the fiery ingenuity of the genre has begun to slowly re-emerge in popular music, influencing artists such as Flying Lotus and Thundercat. Saxophonist Kamasi Washington has raised eyebrows this year with a hugely-appropriately titled album. And jazz flourishes were all over the world-devouring “To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar. One of the players on that awesome record, pianist Robert Glasper, has chosen now to release a most un-2015 of things, a live jazz trio album.
Recorded live in Capitol Records studio in front of a small audience of friends and fans, Glasper runs through an eclectic selection of covers. Alongside jazz standards like ‘Stella By Starlight’, there are versions of tracks by Radiohead, Joni Mitchell and John Legend. Over the course of his career, Glasper has been at pains not to be pigeonholed as a purely jazz player, reaching out to fans of R’nB among other genres.
From the easy-going introduction outlining what’s ahead, it’s clear that Glasper is in a playful mood. He begins with a track that was originally a collaboration with Macy Gray on his acclaimed ‘Black Radio 2’ album. Haunting, pleading piano lines are accompanied by a jittery, almost Aphex Twin-esque drum performance by Damion Reid. A lyrical interpretation of Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’ follows, again backed superbly by Reid and bassist Vicente Archer. (Glasper has previously covered another of the Oxford band’s more jazz-influenced tracks)
There are moments on the album that veer to self indulgence, particularly on a lengthy reading of ‘In Case You Forgot’, which might turn off listeners who prefer their jazz on the smooth side. It is worth persevering through to arrive at the gorgeous sounds found on ‘So Beautiful’ and ‘Levels’.
The album ends on a more serious note, or two. Glasper is joined on penultimate track ‘Got Over’ by singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, who delivers a raspy, defiant spoken word monologue. On final track, a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘I’m Dying of Thirst’, Glasper’s 6-year-old son Riley reads a list of African American victims of police shootings. It’s a poignant end.
Robert Glasper is a busy bee. He is in charge of scoring the soundtrack for Don Cheadle’s upcoming biopic about Miles Davis, as well as remixing some of the great trumpeters material for a release on Columbia. Also, he is producing a tribute album to soul legend Nina Simone. After the ambition and experimentation of the ‘Black Radio’ releases and ‘Robert Glasper Experiment’, this release may seem like a bit of a throwaway or stop gap. Indeed, it’s not an ‘essential’ album but it succeeds for what it is, a confident, creative artist having fun and capable of making great sounds even when he’s playing just for friends.
‘Covered’ is available now on Blue Note Records. Robert Glasper is on tour now.