If the young Turks of the London scene are on something of a roll at present, then what is happening Stateside? Part of the answer at least is contained in this new Robert Glasper-led project with a cast of immensely talented new wannabees in this young and immensely talented collective. The motivation began with a revisiting of Nina Simone’s repertoire, but musically speaking a major inspiration was hearing the highly influential album, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, by Kendrick Lamar. Just as the likes of Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and Ramsey Lewis effortlessly fused jazz, funk and soul in the 1970s, so a new generation are now at ease combining elements of jazz, soul and hip-hop, the latter of which has often been the preferred vernacular of choice for young African-Americans (and by extension urban youth globally) for at least three to four decades. Glasper’s ‘Black Radio’ albums have unquestionably informed the sound within and what makes this album especially interesting is the jazz ethos of recording live in a single take. On board for the musical journey are some of the finest Young Turks that the United States can muster, such as the elder son of Bobby McFerrin and synth/beatbox musician Taylor, drummer Justin Tyson, synth and vocoder player Terrace Martin, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, while Hodge on bass and Glasper on assorted acoustic and electric keyboards provide the much-needed and experienced backbone. This writer immediately warmed to the Fender-led plus collective horns of ‘Resting Warrior’, Glasper being a joy to hear on the subtle deploying of electric keyboards, up there with the very best practitioners of that form of instrumentation. On ‘Awake To You’, leader Glasper reverts to acoustic piano, ably assisted by the muted Harmon of Scott and the vocoder vocals of Martin. For a potential single to showcase the album as a whole, ‘Colors In The Dark’, fits that portfolio with aplomb, and is a mid-tempo vocoder-led vocal number, that sounds to these ears like a gentle update on the nu-soul phenomenon (with a nod, perhaps, to Erykah Badu), and that is sure to appeal to a wider audience. The staccato drum beat of the opening number, ‘Change Of Tone’, typifies the combination of acoustic and electric, with Glasper on acoustic piano and Martin on vocoder engaging in a fruitful musical conversation. In the 1980s, James Mtume creatively fused programmed drum beats with soulful vocals on the seminal 1983 outing, ‘Juicy Fruit’, and, in its slow backbeat, ‘Needed You Still’, sounds as though it is indeed the direct inheritor of that song, now refocused and repackaged for a twenty-first century public, and sounding all the better for it. European dates for this exciting formation are currently underway, 13 July sees them at the annual North Sea jazz Festival in Rotterdam, followed by two UK dates. Robert Glasper and Derrick Hodge are an absolute delight to and see and hear in a live context.
July 15 – Citadel Festival – London, UK
July 16 – Shephed’s Bush Empire – London, UK