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Robert Glasper’s latest release provides the most relevant example of his personal voice as both a composer and arranger. Interestingly, Glasper’s instrumental prowess is more reserved on this record than perhaps any other, with many tracks focusing primarily on vocals rather than instrumental interplay. Glasper assumes the role of a co-producer and musical director, expanding his palette as an artist to a new plateau. The album leans heavily on R&B inflected vocals with organic hip-hop instrumental backing, and the results are interesting for both casual listeners and devoted musicians.
One of the most attractive aspects of this record for listeners is the eclectic mix of guests who are presented throughout the album. Erykah Badu, Mos Def, and Lupe Fiasco are just a few of the guests who contributed to this album. Glasper’s open minded approach in using these musicians may lead to a new audience for this music, perhaps helping to spread the influence of jazz into other genres. The average listener will certainly be hearing some unfamiliar sounds, but the individual tracks are very accessible due in large part to the rhythmic contributions of drummer Chris Dave, a master of both jazz and hip-hop styles.
Dave’s musicality is one of the highlights of this album. His drumming always provides a solid groove for the band to settle in to, but his use of angular fills and off beat accents shifts the band’s aesthetic away from most contemporary hip hop and R&B. Dave’s rhythmic complexity is intriguing, but never distracts listeners from following each tune’s natural progression. In terms of the instrumental aspects of this album, Dave’s drumming may be the element in which the rest of the band builds on. He provides a variety of approaches to keep the groove from becoming dull, and hip-hop listeners may find themselves wondering what other possibilities will emerge from the combination of hip-hop stylings with the natural complexity of jazz drumming.
This album will probably show up on top 10 lists at the end of the year, so even if you are a jazz purist, be sure to give it a listen.
Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio (Blue Note 2012)
Robert Glasper - piano, Chris Dave - drums, Casey Benjamin - sax, vocoder, producer, Derrick Hodge (bass)
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Recorded during a two week residency at the Blue Note in New York, ‘Further Explorations’ is a tribute to the late pianist Bill Evans, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist in the history of the music. This recording is one of the last made of the late drummer Paul Motian, who passed away last year. Perhaps the most outstanding quality of this recording is that throughout each piece, Corea never attempts to imitate Evans’ instantly identifiable style. Any fan could identify Corea’s sound within a few seconds of any hearing any track. Drummer Paul Motian is best known for abstract and highly textural style of playing and composing, but on this record, his unique swing style is heard throughout. Motian is highly interactive, and often develops ideas along with the soloist. His solos emphasize melodic development rather than technical complexity. Nonetheless, he is a solid drummer who provides energy and inspiration for the whole band. Bassist Eddie Gomez, who played with Bill Evans several years after Paul Motian had left the trio following the death of bassist Scott LaFaro, is heard in his usual aggressive style. Gomez is a bassist who enjoys pushing a soloist further into their improvisation, and this suits Corea perfectly. Both Corea and Gomez are high energy players, and Paul Motian’s drumming serves as perhaps the most unique aspect of this dynamic trio.
Chick Corea/Eddie Gomez/Paul Motian - ‘Further Explorations’ (Concord Jazz 2012)
Chick Corea (piano), Eddie Gomez (bass), Paul Motian (drums)
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Joe Lovano’s latest release, his 22nd album, showcases one of his original influences from childhood, Charlie “Bird” Parker. Parker was obviously known as a bebop pioneer, and has been an influence to just about every jazz musician, regardless of their chosen instrument, since his time. On this record, Lovano attempts to place some of Parker’s most well known compositions in a new setting. Each tune is given a different arrangement than the original recordings done by Bird’s groups in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Many jazz fans have been hearing these tunes for decades, and the decision to do an album of nothing but Charlie Parker compositions may seem like a mistake to some. However, Lovano’s arrangements add a renewed interest to these tunes. This remains true even despite the fact that each tune on this record is among the most popular of Parker’s compositions. Lovano has even taken fragments of extrapolated melodies to create new compositions, as on the track “Birdyard”. Listeners are sure not to grow tired of the typical head-solo-head form of most bebop jazz. The sidemen on this recording provide a modern rhythm section feel, which also helps place the music in a more unique territory. It is refreshing not to hear a young rhythm section attempt to sound like a 1950’s house band. Overall, this record is a refreshing take on well known bebop standards placed in a modern context. In our current era of change in jazz, an era which has given rise to criticism from certain established musicians, it is interesting to note that at least one legend in the jazz world seems to approve the new direction of the music.
Joe Lovano/Us Five - Bird Songs (Blue Note Records 2011)
Joe Lovano (tenor sax), James Weidman (piano), Esperanza Spalding (bass), Otis Brown III (drums), Francisco Mela (also drums)