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Meet Robert Glasper

Blue Note hasn’t signed a new jazz artist in years. But something about this young pianist from Houston made the suits’ ties twirl.

Robert Glasper

It’s Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, and pianist Robert Glasper is recording what will eventually be the third track of Canvas, his second CD and his Blue Note debut. Outside, the sun blazes in a cloudless sky, hotter than usual for mid-May; inside Systems Two Studios, the climate, like the vibe, is decidedly cool. In the booth, engineer Joe Marciano adjusts some levels while producer Eli Wolf leans back in a chair. Both are gazing intermittently through the control-room window at Glasper’s trio, which shifts into the final chorus of “Portrait of an Angel” with the easy grace of a late-spring breeze.

Glasper and his trio-mates, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid, are making good time today; they’ve already wrapped a couple of songs, each in a single take. But “Portrait” ran six minutes, a touch on the long side. So Glasper and Reid start into it again-but with a preposterous go-go beat that has the men behind the glass exchanging looks. (“They’re kidding,” Wolf assures Marciano.) The band cracks up, but only after riding out the stunt for a minute. Then Glasper tosses his dreadlocks with mock flamboyance, rolls his shoulders like a boxer and starts a solo-piano introduction. At the first downbeat, he’s all business, bolt upright at the keys.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).