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May 2007

Robert Glasper
In My Element
Blue Note Records

Since he became Blue Note’s first new jazz artist signing in five years in 2005, Robert Glasper has been praised for the wrong reasons. Glasper’s hip-hop and gospel connections are not unique, and he does not really play the piano like Brad Mehldau. What is special about Glasper is that he has developed his own sound (no small achievement for a 28-year-old). His hard, glancing touch and dense chords that circle back on themselves and glitchy, obsessive meters and looped melodies and layered tremolos all create a sonic universe. Every piece is like a pool expanding outward.

Glasper’s concept requires major two-handed chops, but also imposes limitations. Tunes as structurally dissimilar as “G & B” and “Of Dreams to Come” and “Silly Rabbit” begin to blur together because they share the same hovering, circling stasis. One can grow impatient waiting for them to stop introducing themselves and proceed. And Damion Reid, Glasper’s nervous, repetitive drummer, is annoying.

“One for ’Grew” (for Mulgrew Miller) is atypical because it sustains a strong narrative (albeit with much doubling back and ornate digression). Glasper’s Hancock/Radiohead overlay (“Maiden Voyage/Everything in Its Right Place”) is creative, even if tame compared to Brad Mehldau’s wild, dissonant Radiohead incantation on his Warner Bros. album Anything Goes.

Originally published in May 2007
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