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November 2005

Robert Glasper
Canvas
Blue Note Records

Robert Glasper's much-anticipated Blue Note debut is a piano-trio session plus guests, a bit like his 2003 Fresh Sound effort, Mood. With the exceptional Damion Reid returning on drums and Vicente Archer taking over for Bob Hurst on bass, Canvas situates Glasper to full advantage. Mark Turner's tenor-sax contributions on the title track and on Herbie Hancock's "Riot" seal the deal.

All the tracks but "Riot" are originals, although Glasper's take on Hancock stands out as an artistic centerpiece. Playing Rhodes as well as piano, he takes a seemingly inconsequential snippet of the melody and loops it as a five-bar phrase for soloing. As an example of sonic and formal creativity, this is a stunner. But it's also a window into Glasper's emerging sound, in which advanced jazz lines, neosoul cadences and hints of hip-hop rhythm all play a role. To that extent, Glasper's "Riot" is as original as his brisk, Mehldau-esque opener "Rise and Shine," his 7/8 romp "Jelly's Da Beener" or his 5/4 pastoral "North Portland." However, Bilal's guest vocals on "Chant" and "Remember" strike me as clumsy and obtrusive-a fleeting misstep on an otherwise fine and focused album.

Originally published in November 2005
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