Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who marches to the beat of his own keys. This year he took the stage for a showcase at SXSW, where he was joined by Terrace Martin, Christian Scott, Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin, and Marcus Gilmore. This is the first time these guys were ever on stage together. See the Libro Musica coverage of this show on the Mazda Studio stage at Empire Studio & Garage, here. To accompany my mocha with some vicarious thrills, I gave a listen to Double Booked, the album Robert released in 2009.
It begins with an Intro, a voice message expressing confusion over Robert being scheduled to play at two different venues on the same night. I haven’t even heard the jazz man yet, but I’m already liking his style. The piano tells a story in “No Worries,” with Chris Dave punctuating each sentence with the drums and Vincente Archer letting his bass clear the air for each new word and turn of phrase that flows from Robert’s fingers. At times the piano is incredulous, other moments insistent. The story twists and turns in episodes carefully crafted to elicit excitement and emotion. It’s like birdsong when you’re alone.
“Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)” rolls out like brown earth covered in rows of green crops as you drive past; hot air blowing in through the windows, and clouds claiming their territory in the sky like people at the beach. As the excitement builds, Robert pulls out an impressive series for the listener to lose himself in. Percussion worth bobbing your head to taps suggestively at the windows of your cochlea, and Robert takes things indoors with piano sound like creamy risotto. Then it’s Vincente’s turn. “Downtime” is a discreet conversation, sailing through the ups and downs of ideas, responses, and collaboration.
The title of the next track sounds like a restaurant that would have cloth napkins and some really fancy shrimp and grits. “59 South” inspired the following haiku: Cool jazz album / Words filling the page / My hot mocha disappears. The track is innovative like Western poetry in the first half of the 20th century. It hints at commuter trains, orderly traffic, and effective lighting. The track creates a vision of the world we live in and the world we are to inhabit, the future informed by the futuristic features of the present and cries of the past.
The next song is likely something you have heard before: “Think Of One,” composed by the one and only Thelonious Monk. Robert plays the notes like a soothsayer, diving into each one with the ultimate knowledge of how it will splash into the following. There is no need to come up for air because the whole piece is air. “4eva” features another voice message, a plea for the Robert Glasper Experiment to come, do their thing – which is defined as “miraculous spaced-out past geometry near calculus stuff…” Which is a better description than I could give it. Periodicity in percussion and piano provide a ladder for a disconnected voice to further distance itself from a terrestrial existence in “Butterfly,” a Herbie Hancock tune.
“Festival” is like a cup of coffee in the late afternoon. It unfolds gradually, percolating and melding to comprise a current of sound that could represent a day in the life. Hopeful high notes tempered by the rhythmic reality of the percussion unlock an alternate dimension the listener may experience viscerally – should he choose to enter Robert’s world. High frequency mushy cymbals form space into vague globs and Robert’s keys and processed voice take control of those globs, packaging them deliberately with care like a French chocolatier in “For You.” I wonder if the “You” in the title is Music itself.
Easing the listener in to “All Matter” is a drum bit more venturous than a 20 Euro note. Robert makes conversation with the piano. Then the vocals begin, Bilal Oliver examining love and existentialism, line after fantastic line, before easing off, piano trailing behind. Double Booked ends with “Open Mind,” a floating track that sweeps up all the forgotten notes of the previous songs, combining them in a time-bending oscilloscope of rhythm and feeling. Its pièce de résistance, arguably, is a drum solo that offers a choose-your-own-adventure to the listener that feels grander than the confines of the track itself. And perhaps even the album.
If you can’t catch Robert in Austin, do not lose hope. He has many dates set through the end of this summer, including the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Charleston’s Low Country Jazz Festival. Go see him live and add him to your Music Library.