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For Your Consideration: Robert Glasper Experiment's 'Black Radio'

Alexander Brown
Contributing Writer
alexanderparisbrown@gmail.com / @relaxandaspire

Jazz listeners of all stripes really don’t need a treatise on why the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio is worth picking up. If you haven’t read or seen an interview of Robert Glasper, listened to select tracks or the entire album, or seen live performances of several of the albums’ songs this month, you’ve gone media autistic. Instead I want to address everyone else who only “kind of listens to jazz, you know, like when I’m studying”; so if every jazz enthusiast would kindly direct their nearest iffy jazz listening friend to this page it would be greatly appreciated.

To those people who keep saying you should listen to more jazz, the Robert Glasper Experiment has made the most accessible, crossover jazz album since Earth, Wind & Fire and Ramsay Lewis’ Sun Goddess. This album is tailor-made for the mass appeal of people who actually enjoy music made by people and not the algorithms in Pro Tools.

Specifically, all of you notty and natural headed earth-people or hipster afro-futurists. You, who love to whine so hard about how no one makes “real music” anymore and how most songs lack depth in their arrangement and narrative. You can at least sacrifice a week's worth of kombucha and pumpkin seeds to buy the vinyl. Pretty much everyone who has reviewed Black Radio agrees it is exactly as Glasper intended, a love letter and call to action to black popular music of the 20th century.

Beyond that, the album showcases one of the enduring hallmarks of jazz artists-- versatility. The Experiment sends notice to The Roots over just how badass one band can be utilizing influences from so many different artists. Most striking is the fact that every track sounds as if it were a part of the guest artists’ signature canon as well as being noticeably Robert Glasper’s style. You can hear Erykah Badu at her most effortless on her interpretation of “Afro Blue” or you can get down with the panty-dropping vocals of Stokely Williams on “Why Do We Try”.

Which brings me to the next group of people who should be delving deep into this record-- DJ’s and producers. Those who attest to being a member to the cult of J. Dilla and Kayne West will find every track rife for sampling and remixing. It would be a travesty if all of the skilled work that Chris Dave, Derrick Hodge, and Casey Benjamin do to hold down every song isn’t prominently featured in a mixtape this year. The breaks alone are crazy enough to justify permanent status in your crates.

And since it’s just past the Oscar week, it just needs to be said that few instruments can capture moods on their own as easily as a piano, and there are few artists with the skill to bridge mood and pop sensibility as well as Glasper. The cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” exudes the same angst and youthful dissonance as the original, with an obviously more delicate touch. The track screams to be used for cinema. Trent Reznor gets away with it all the time, why not Glasper?

Black Radio will surely go down as one of the hallmark albums of this new fusion-ist era of jazz; the shame would be if it were confined to that. The album bridges the gap from jazz to black pop music the same way taking BART makes the Bay Area seem like one big city with a hundred neighborhoods. This is the album for jazz listeners to highlight when their friends, family members, co-workers, or friendly shopkeeps at your local record store say they would listen to more jazz if the best wasn’t in the past. Black Radio may be right within the thick of the current nostalgia craze in western pop culture, but like any good time-traveller, it doesn’t solely exist in antiquity.

Alexander Brown is a freelance writer. More of his work is available at his blog, Relax and Aspire.