There’s this weird trend in urban music where many rappers and even R&B artists don’t fully perform their songs live. Instead, they execute stage antics and chime in occasionally with the backing track. Houston jazz man Robert Glasper is the opposite of that. He’s the antidote to so much of what’s wrong with modern music. To every lip-syncher who’s ever had the gall to swindle a crowd, to every cheap, auto-tuned hook, to every formulaic nothing song carefully crafted to become a chart-topper.
Appearing with a group of six top-notch instrumentalists, the keyboard wizard led a remarkable jazz session at Empire Garage. The set clocked in at two and a half hours, and it was constructed by a group of artists who had never performed as an ensemble. For the most part, they improvised. The artists passed each other riffs, following the melodies down abstract pathways, indulging their instrumental prowess with sprawling solos. They built layers of sound and broke them down again.
Glasper is a phenomenal talent, ferocious on the keys, but he was also a gracious band leader, passing the spotlight freely and reveling in the brilliance of his peers. “This moment is never going to happen again,” he said halfway through, explaining that the band was “making (expletive) up as we go along.”
The motivation for the evening was the music itself, the complicated riffs, odd changes, weird time signatures and eerie melodies artists coax out of each other when their only objective is to follow the muse.
Glasper bills his show as Robert Glasper and friends. Here are some of the folks who came through to show and prove.
Neo-soul titan Bilal taught a master class in how to evolve a hook.
Singer Anna Wise, whose featured prominently on Kendrick Lamar’s did a sublime feature.
Multi-instrumentalist Taylor McFerrin, was part of the main ensemble for the night. He’s a fantastic player, who also has wicked beatbox skills, which is not surprising when you consider who his father is.
An easy highlight for indie hip-hop fans was when Phonte, from Little Brother and Foreign Exchange, popped up and destroyed a few verses.
And Philly rapper Dice Raw showed up on the set too.