Taking the stage in the most laid back and casual of manners complete in sweatshirt and baggy jeans with a friendly ‘Hello how y’re doin’?’, this was to be a fine exhibition of the contemporary piano jazz trio and one in both an informal and intimate setting. Yet let there may be no mistake about it, once the music commenced, the virtuosity of the musicians and the interplay between them was exemplary.
Houston born pianist Glasper belongs to the soulful school of jazz pianists and in this respect, his Texan roots fit into a distinctive lineage with the likes of Erykah Badu and further back in time to Bobby Bland. However, he is no retro artist and has been anxious to explore the use of hip-hop beats and unsual time signatures common to rap and hip-hop, and then reset them in a jazz context. In this respect he is part of a recent tradition of rappers such as Tribe Called Quest who, during the 1990s, successfully fused funk-inflected jazz samples (and even Ron Carter’s bass lines) with conscious and more reflective rap musings, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphopresy and Buckshot Le Fonque aka Branford Marsalis to mention but a few. One of the main features of the evening was the frequent and innovative use of unusual time signatures by all three members of the trio, but especially by St. Louis born drummer Marc Colenburg.
The trio specialise in extended pieces in a live setting, often featuring a medley of tunes that neatly segue into one another. Glasper is a fully mature pianist who does not overly embellish the underlying rhythms, but has a particularly fine sense of when to use repetition in order to heighten tension and engage in delightful interplay with drummer Colenburg. Collectively they have been likened by some to a neo-EST. In fact they are much more of a neo-Keith Jarrett, or more relevantly a Brad Mehldau trio with the latter’s excursions into contemporary pop and rock tunes being noteworthy. The understated basslines of Derrick Hodge should not be underestimated and indeed keeps the trio bubbling over during the whole evening. Hodge promises to be one of the major bassists of the future and his debut album for the Blue Note label in 2011 will be eagerly anticipated and include the participation of both Glasper and fellow label pianist Aaron Parks.
Blue Note artist Robert Glasper has over three albums cut some particularly fine material with ‘In my element’ (2007) and ‘Canvas’ (2005) both being fine examples of the jazz trio in a resolutely modern setting Glasper and is proving to be an extremely gifted composer into the bargain and a great storyteller on both acoustic and electronic keyboards. Stylistically he has been heavily influenced by the modal inventions of McCoy Tyner and especially both the acoustic and electronic improvisations of Herbie Hancock. Indeed Hancock featured significantly on the evening’s proceedings and paradoxically, in comparison with the great man’s concert at the Bridgewater Hall, only a few days previous, the Hancock jazz content was notably higher. On Hancock’s ‘I have a dream’, Glasper uses the delicate hues of the fender rhodes and transports us back in time for a few minutes into the 1970s while ‘Butterfly’ from the Headhunters period becomes a gentler paced, but nonetheless funk-tinged number than the original. The one contemporary addition is the use of hip-hop inflected drum beats part way through which makes the number sound thoroughly twenty-first century. On ‘Maiden Voyage’, the title track of Hancock’s modal masterpiece album on Blue Note, the trio breathed new life into the standard with a gentle fall and rise in tempo and left the stage to a hugely appreciative audience.
For the first part of the encore, Glasper enquired as to what the audience would like to hear and the over whelming democratically chosen number was his signature tune ‘No worries’. The trio by this time were well into their humorous routine and played a sedate mock version of Ellington’s ‘Take the ‘A’ train’ before entering properly into the Glasper composition with the pianist playing a long roll. The unison of the trio performance was in the demonstration class and the melody was simple, yet incredibly effective. Even when the tempo slowed and the rhythm became staccato, there was still a relaxed feel to the overall sound. An intimate piano passage and drum-propelled percussion segued into the trio’s main theme with heavy bass and funk-based drums to the fore.
The trio left the stage to rapturous applause. Herbie Hancock would do well to observe this trio and re-infuse some of the fresh sounding jazz contained within into his own repertoire. How about a duet album between Glasper and Hancock? Now that would be a pianistic treat worth the pennies.