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Robert Glasper, London Jazz Festival, Kings Place | New music reviews, news & interviews

Robert Glasper, London Jazz Festival, Kings Place

Time-bending feats from US pianist and his acoustic trio

Small miracles of contrapuntal and rhythmical ingenuity: Robert Glasper

There aren't too many pianists who excite jazz aficionados and hip-hop fans in equal measure. But then no other artist has been inspired equally by hip-hop beats on the one hand and Thelonious Monk on the other. And while it appears increasingly that jazz artists are refusing to be straitjacketed by genre convention, US pianist Robert Glasper is perhaps the prime example of this blurring at the edges.

Glasper's previous Blue Note album, Double Booked (2009), celebrated this creative duality by featuring his acoustic trio in the first half and the electric Robert Glasper Experiment in the second. In this Kings Place concert we heard the acoustic trio performing small miracles of contrapuntal and rhythmical ingenuity in their readings of “Rise and Shine” and “Downtime”.

It was not only incredible to listen to, but also quite beautiful to look at

Glasper had two extraordinary sidemen in bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg, both of whom appeared to be attuned to his musical aesthetic on some kind of spiritual plane. Colenburg's drum solo in the first set featured kit work of such blink-and-you-miss-it speed that there was almost a strobe effect, with the two sticks caught in a kind of poetic slow motion. It was not only incredible to listen to, but also quite beautiful to look at. The drummer's rapid repeated hits on the hi-hat and snare were also musical feats to marvel at.

Carving out huge paragraphs of sound, at certain points each member of the trio seemed to be locked into their own, rhythmically distinctive ostinato. Layered one on top of the other, however, they created the characteristically fractured, hip-hop grooves that Glasper has made very much his own.

What Glasper does is incorporate that jittery, stop-start quality into his acoustic playing

And this is the thing that really sets Glasper apart from any other contemporary pianist – his ability to bend time within the phrase. This isn't achieved just by adding or subtracting beats. What Glasper does is incorporate that jittery, stop-start quality from electronic music, be it sampling or scratching, into his acoustic playing. As both sets amply demonstrated, it's not a case of the pianist simply switching his hip-hop sensibilities on or off depending on the musical context. They underpin everything he does: his melodic approach, his phrasing, his layering of material.

Such is the inherent strength of Glasper's harmonic conception that the nature of the source material almost doesn't matter. Whether it's Herbie Hancock's “Maiden Voyage” or Radiohead's “Everything in its Right Place”, which the pianist spliced together on his 2007 album In My Element and was the musical high-water mark of the second set, Glasper bends the material entirely to his will.

The second set also saw the brief addition of Casey Benjamin (a member of Glasper's Experiment project) on soprano sax in a coruscating reading of Herbie Hancock's “I Have a Dream”. With his piled-up, dyed-red dreadlocks, skin-tight jeans and shiny boots, Benjamin made a deep sartorial and musical impression. “You so look out of place here,” Glasper quipped. Benjamin will feature on Glasper's forthcoming release Black Radio, the first full-length album from the Experiment project. Also featuring an impressive roll call of special guests including Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Meshell Ndegeocello and Stokley Williams, it looks set to be one of the key releases of 2012.

Watch the Robert Glasper Trio perform "Maiden Voyage/Everything in its Right Place"

It's not a case of the pianist simply switching his hip-hop sensibilities on or off depending on the musical context. They underpin everything he does

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