Album Watch: Tuning Into Robert Glasper Experiment's 'Black Radio'
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Experimentation for meditation...
Growing up, with a Jazz-minded father, I often heard albums by instrumentalists on the daily. Herbie Hancock. Bob James. Roy Ayers. Ramsey Lewis. All of those cats and many more. So during the years where Hip-Hop and it's culture became a part of my life, I was probably the only kid on the block who knew the source back-beat to many a lyrical spit. At the time, never did I really think about how Jazz has been an entrical part of Hip-Hop, due to the abundance of sampling and both genres having a penchant for being a playground for improvisation, and yet, even today, the idea of mutual exclusivity is never really explored, because it just seems to be an understated second nature. The lost art, now, is the instrumentalist, the one who actually makes those 'borrowable' beats. The Roots, being the most popular collective at current, have brought the idea of back to mainstream of the harmonious nature of hip-hop and jazz in a political and progressive vein. Yet, they aren't the only ones attempting this format to success.
Little do I know about Houston-bred pianist Robert Glasper so the essential reel to Black Radio was based on the cornucopia of Soul and Hip-Hop talent he has residing in it's tracklisting, and pretty much I was sold. Easily, with such strong backing from the likes of Eryakh Badu, Meshell Nedegeocello, Ledisi, Yasiin Bey, Bilal, Lalah Hathaway, Lupe Fiasco, Musiq Soulchild, and Chrisette Michele you'd think Glasper along with his Experiment trio are just there for background noise, but just like the genres they are blending, melodic cohesiveness is at the core of Black Radio as they are the artistic medium that lead to the array of colors and motifs on this masterwork of sound.
Highlight after highlight awaits you---and an exaggeration it's not.
Badu lures us (as she usually is prone to do) on Mongo Santamaría's "Afro Blue", a Jazz classic that I've heard done brilliantly by the likes of Abbey Lincoln, Dianne Reeves, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. To to round out the quartet of cover smother greatness Badu is added to the roster as she brings a little 21st century edge to the cut with her unique vocal stylings. The darlings of 2011, KING, put love into action with the exceptional, "Move Love" which drifts in beautifully and charms.
Lalah Hathaway reforms Sade's "Cherish The Day" into a completely different reading and same can be said about the alluring and supple trip Bilal takes David Bowie's "Letter To Hermione" on. Ledisi packs some qualifying heat on stand-out, "Gonna Be Alright" and her unmistakable voice elevates. Musiq and Chrisette Michele should get together more often on the vocal front as far as their duet, "Ah Yeah" is concerned. Ndegeocello doesn't put the fire out as it keeps on licking while burns right through "Consequence Of Sound" and it's a sensual come-on set to music if ever. "Why Do We Try" features Stokley Williams from Mint Condition who adds complement to the racing finger work of Glasper as he lets those ivories sing.
To top everything off is Glasper's stab at Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", a song that has been done a thousand times over by the 'hip' electro-soul crowd. Just that this time out it has never sounded so deflected and cerebral with it's echo-ing Roger Troutman-esque vocoder effects and percussive build-up.
Buried in Black Radio's concise is the slight jab at the state of well---'Black Radio' and really radio in general. The idea of it, the fluidity of it, the essence of it, and sadly, the current demise of it. As someone who hasn't tuned into a local radio station in about eight years or so (and I'm not talking about the create-yourself luxury of Internet radio), it saddens me that that era is quite archaic now, and has been neglected because of abundant access we have to music thanks new and optional sources. It's pretty obvious from the way this album takes many twists and turns that it's giving a subliminal message of a vie for diversity on the airwaves, but also a vie for this type of unity between artists, artists who all possess one common goal, and that is the love and sharing of music---and that ideal has lost a lot of weight in our society today.
Black Radio doesn't really bluntly say this (unless you count the flows from Yasiin Bey in the title track), but from it's tracklisting and various guest spots, it gives you an idea of what Black radio in today's scope could sound like, and in someways it plays like a love letter to that bygone era as well as plays as call for some improvement in that area. Listen and you will hear.
What to love about Black Radio beyond it's subtle message to a befallen media idol, but the fact that this is an 'experience' album. You are literally submerged in it's everlasting sound gifts, as well as locked into the idea of an album where an album is cohesive, yet with diversity in it's mix---and that rarely gets done. Edgy, yet welcoming, and honestly derived, Black Radio is nothing short of aural sublimity and to experience it is to just put it on and leave it alone, no need to touch the dial.
Release Date: February 28, 2012
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