Album Review of ArtScience by Robert Glasper Experiment.
Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Jazz, R&B, Contemporary Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Electric Jazz
With ArtScience, quartet Robert Glasper Experience have — more or less — made a straight-up jazz record. That said, it's never constrained by genre trappings; having thoroughly explored the premise of the influence of black artists and culture within today's music on the Black Radio record series, bandleader Glasper shifts gears here, just a bit; unlike those outings, there are no guest stars here to lean on — not that the quartet needed any help. "The reality is, my people have given the world so many styles of music, so many different styles.
With last year’s Covered, free-thinking idiom-bender Robert Glasper imaginatively used a classic acoustic-trio jazz lineup to rework pop-structured songs. ArtScience reassembles his vocoder-dominated Experiment quartet, but this time with all the members joining the electronically massaged vocals in a recalibration of the group’s balance of pop, dance and jazz methods. The fast jazz swing, skidding avant-bop sax and acoustic walking bass of the opener immediately flags that up, before electronically warped crowd sounds and a hard-struck hip-hop groove intervene.
After the unqualified critical, chart, sales, and Grammy successes of the Robert Glasper Experiment's two Black Radio albums, remixes, and singles, the need to explore was requisite. ArtScience is a reflection of the qualities and musical interests that brought this band together. Their seamless meld of contemporary jazz, hip-hop, neo-soul, pop, and rock has influenced a host of artists following in their wake.
For almost a decade, Robert Glasper has been the standard-bearer for jazz music’s fusion with hip-hop, soul, and rock, turning songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” into kinetic electro-funk mashups. With his Experiment band, Glasper, vocalist/saxophonist Casey Benjamin, drummer Mark Colenburg, and bassist Derrick Hodge tend to leapfrog different genres, making music that’s rooted in jazz and R&B and impossible to peg. “My people have given the world so many styles of music,” Glasper declares at the top of ArtScience, the Experiment’s new album.
When we last left the Robert Glasper Experiment, it stood knee-deep in star power with the Black Radio series, featuring everyone from Erykah Badu to Faith Evans to Malcolm-Jamal Warner on classic jazz tracks with a strong neo-soul angle. The quartet topped the Billboard jazz charts, scored a Grammy, and, of course, did quite a number on genre boundaries. Three years later, the glut of famous guests are nowhere to be seen.
Those searching for a breakout success story in jazz over the last five years would be hard-pressed to top Robert Glasper. However, for a better read on the trajectory of the Houston-born keyboardist, it may be more instructive to think of “breakout” in terms of what one does to leave a prison. Already a rising star on the strength of albums that could merge an admiration for the beats of J Dilla into a piano trio, Glasper shook up the genre with his band the Experiment and its Grammy-winning 2012 debut “Black Radio,” which rode an open-door policy to the sounds of R&B, rock and hip-hop to something jazz had rarely seen: crossover success with a young audience.
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