Robert Glasper and his Experiment. These are some supremely talented dudes. This experiment feels like deconstruction, followed by reconstruction, and then a little dash of flash. Mr. Glasper and his jazz players take the familiar and tried tenets of jazz and hip-hop and use them to reconstruct something completely original and exciting.
And, on their newest release, Black Radio, Glasper and his comrades deliver a truly exciting fully realized album. The jazz pianist’s latest release features expertly placed guests. This includes contributions from Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lalah Hathaway, Ledisi, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild, Stokley Williams, Shafiq Husayn, KING, Chrisette Michele, and Meshell Ndegeocello. I am sure that I have forgotten someone, because the list goes on and on. It seems like a big name guests on every single track. (It really says something that all of these big-leaguers would readily accept an invitation from Glasper and company. That really tells you something about the caliber of the music.)
Listen to the album’s introduction (here is where the reformed English grad student in me really shines) and you are presented with a lens through which to experience these songs. You must always listen to the source. We are told the following (through the disembodied voice of Husayn, who really presents a perfect voice for narration):
I wish you the best. And now for the next. Coming to your mind, live and direct from the ethers. Now it’s all in your speakers. Now to your sneakers. Now as we prepare for our lift-off, you will need two things to direct your course: your ears and your soul. I bring to you, the Robert Glasper Experiment. Experimentation for meditation.
It’s like the music is directing you, letting you know exactly how to experience it. It’s a helpful hint. All of the covers on this album are wonderfully presented. Many are true to the original with Badu’s “Afro Blue” really shining. This really is a who’s who affair. But for me, the album’s highlight is “Always Shine”. This piano-driven classic features dexterous vocal work from Bilal. It also manages to reinvigorate Lupe Fiasco. He sounds genuinely excited and inspired on this one, fulfilling much of the promise that we recognized on his earliest efforts. In this realization, there lies the brilliance of Glasper and company. They seamlessly straddle genres.