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To A Jazz Junkie, Robert Glasper”s Black Radio 2 Is A Let Down

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Robert Glasper Grammy Awards
Everyone likes Robert Glasper. Including me. Two years ago, I first ran across the Trio (with Chris “Daddy” Dave and Derrick Hodge) watching a video of them at the NY Hip Hop Cultural Center. I became a fan after hearing his unique track “Silly Rabbit” and immediately purchased all three albums through Amazon. No, seriously–literally after hearing this track, I hopped on Amazon.

That was than and this is now. The Robert Glasper Experiment, composed of the same Hodge, sometimes Dave but “officially” Mark Colenburg on drums and Casey Benjamin. This quartet is certainly an experiment, a whole new sound and involves a lot of vocalists from Benjamin on his vocoder, Bilal (who appeared on the trio album also), Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Chrisette Michelle and a myriad of others, including rappers like Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def). The Experiment in a nutshell is more mainstream and friendly.

Initially, I was excited to hear the Experiment, especially jamming with rappers like Q-Tip, Mos Def, Common, Fiasco, remaking J-Dilla classics. Finally, I thought, a rebirth of Hip Hop lyricism over jazz. Then when I discovered the Experiment was making an album, I didn’t know what to expect. The single “Always Shine” featuring Fiasco and Bilal is simply amazing. The other more popular song is “Afro Blue,” a jazz standard, featuring Erykah Badu’s colorful lyrics. Both verses are the same 16 bars, but the imagery (Dream of a land my soul is from/I hear a hand stroke on the drum) and ambiguity (They gently sway/Then slip away/To some secluded place) is nothing less to expected from an underrated lyricist such as Badu.

(Video: Watch the live performance of “Always Shine” on the David Letterman Show. 5 star performance.)

With all of this praise for the album, one may think I am looking forward to Black Radio 2. I’m not.

I’m not a big fan of the shift in Glasper’s music. The aforementioned artists are not mainstream per se but they are pop(ular). BR1 is predominantly a neo-soul then jazz album. A fancier and different sounding neo-soul, if you will.

I love he is potentially converting neo-soul fans to jazz by exposing its jazz roots. But, unlike jazz, the music lacks spontaneity. Too safe. Doesn’t overly challenge neo-soul standards. One can’t listen to “Silly Rabbit” or “Jelly Da Beener” and tell me it doesn’t challenge jazz. I can’t think of any such track on BR1.

The new single “Calls” featuring Jill Scott could be a cut off of BR1. In fact, many other tracks on BR1 sound too similar and don’t venture out into what would constitute as an “experiment.” Glasper is capable of much more than that and it’s frustrating because I expected more; I believe he purposely went the safe route for appeal. After hearing “Calls” I am not rushing to hear BR2 but will during the week.

For R&B or neo-soul standards, the Experiment is amazing. For jazz standards, which I hold him to, it’s a let down. But holding him to jazz standards may be my mistake.