Robert Glasper at FIJM: The Science of Rap in the Service of Jazz

A Théâtre Maisonneuve at full capacity for the return of composer and pianist Robert Glasper last night, who has come to spread the good jazz, soul and hip-hop vibes that have inspired him since his debut with the neo-soul Singer Bilal made famous in The late 1990’s and up through his trilogy of albums black radio, the latest of which appeared last February. Glasper and his three Caliber companions hit the mark, delivering two hours of free-flowing, tousled grooves.

The new recipient of the Miles Davis Prize, created in 1994 to “pay tribute to an internationally renowned jazz artist, his work and his contribution to the renewal of the genre”, first posed for photographers by accepting his trophy before he introduced us: “See you soon” and DJ Jahi left Sundance alone with the crowd in Montreal.

He put them on break beats for a good twenty minutes, alternating from soul to old-school rap, threading in a few bars of classics in single file, which connoisseurs do not fail to react to before the full orchestra joins him. We emphasize this because, looking back, without our realizing it, DJ Jahi Sundance really set the stage for the rest of the performance, both literally and figuratively: this Glasper concert was in its essence a long mix of musical references, fragments knitted together, as the DJ does, from musical themes from his own repertoire and from those of the composers he admires, to finally form a long and (almost) continuous performance.

“Jazz is both the father and mother of hip-hop, two genres of music born out of oppression, two genres of militant music,” Glasper said in an interview with NPR. In yesterday’s concert he not only demonstrated this claim, but also showed how his intimate knowledge of hip-hop can now produce a new form of expression in jazz. To put on a concert like yesterday, you need to know the source of the samples from the jazz recordings recycled by the rappers, understand how they recontextualized them, and then recycle those ideas, rhythms, and harmonies in a jazz performance.

Hearing him turn jazz into rap, into soul, into R&B and then back into jazz is glowing. Having the benefit of the exceptional talent in the field of drummer Chris Dave (who kept the pace close to Kenny Garrett twenty years ago) made his job easier. This man is a drum machine with heart pounding and hands of breathtaking precision – in the middle of the concert, in a moment of relaxation, Glasper asked him to reproduce pauses from rap and R&B recordings, obviously sticking his nose in his chopsticks.

Glasper, on keyboards and vocals, debuted with Find yourself (from the album art science, 2016), and one would like to say that the song, or at least the spirit of it, spanned more than 90 minutes. Rhythmic and melodic stops between the beginning and the end, always underlaid with soul, funk, hip-hop and the fusion of these genres with jazz. We heard it repeated again smells like Teen Spirit of Nirvana, in the dripping soul manner of its studio version on the first Black Radio (2012), to weave it into the excellent No one like you (more art science). At the end of a seething solo from Rhodes, he briefly intoned a few bars of it In the air tonight by Phil Collins, cited The look of love by Burt Bacharach in a lengthy section dedicated to the memory of influential hip-hop composer J. Dilla, whose rhythm section (completed by Burniss Travis on bass, expertly and obliterated until his sumptuous solo at the end of the concert) is a stunning one Reproduction represents the visionary grooves of the late period beatmaker.

Sometimes a started theme would reappear after about twenty minutes of improvised sequences – structurally it all seemed as random as the opening twenty minutes offered by DJ Jahi Sundance, who injected scratches and sound effects into his colleagues’ playing throughout the concert. A slick concert, totally deconstructed but coherent from start to finish. This earned him a well-deserved standing ovation.

To see in the video

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