Robert Glasper Experiment, "Black Radio" (Blue Note)
In between the grooves on "Black Radio," the new album from the Robert Glasper Experiment, the band allows time for a little gripe session.
"When people think of jazz musicians, they pigeonhole us, like, just 'jazz musician,'" says bassist Derrick Hodge over a freestyle melodious mix.
"I don't think people know what's good and what's not good anymore," says multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, while bandleader and acclaimed jazz musician Glasper chimes in: "Anything popular, even if it's wack, is like what sets the pace of music nowadays. ... Ninety-eight percent of the stuff you hear on the radio is wack."
If that's the case, then "Black Radio" is a very smart — and entertaining — response to what is ailing the music world. The title reflects an idyllic dream state: Few black radio stations would even play Glasper or the varied music he represents, even if they do play some of his many guests — which include Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu, Ledisi and yasiin bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def) — on occasion.
If only those station programmers would listen to "Black Radio." Through 11 tracks, Glasper and his band (Fender Rhodes, Casey Benjamin and Chris Dave) explore R&B, hip-hop and even rock and make the case that they all belong in the world of jazz, and perhaps more important, jazz is a part of those genres as well. The album accomplishes that feat with new songs, as well as interpretations of beloved classics like "Afro Blue," Sade's "Cherish the Day" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The latter is the album's most enthralling performance, as the band turns the grunge anthem into a funky, vibalicous jam.
Among the new songs that stand out are the sexy "Ah Yeah" featuring Musiq Soulchild and "Always Shine," featuring eye-opening raps from Fiasco.
The album's liner notes point out that in plane crashes, the black radio is the box that remains in the wreckage. Here's hoping the music world locates "Black Radio" before doomsday arrives.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: Ledisi never disappoints, and on the collaboration "Gonna Be Alright," her piercing voice sizzles and takes what could be just a nice groove to a totally different level.
- Casey Benjamin