Bassist Derrick Hodge was a palpable presence last year on Black Radio, Robert Glasper’s commercially successful mash-up of jazz, hip-hop and soul music. Hodge’s debut as a leader, Live Today, deploys many of the same core musicians and invokes a similar stylistic template, but cuts down on the high-powered guest stars and recognizable cover tunes to create a more focused, cohesive and artistically ambitious record. It is also very personal, with various tracks harkening back to Hodge’s time in church (the closing “Doxology [I Remember],” the lone cover tune), in his high school marching band (“Boro March”) and as a budding musician (“Rubberband” updates the demo track he made as a teenager). He also nods to two of his mentors, Terence Blanchard (the New Orleans-tinged “Gritty Folk”) and vibraphonist Steve Nelson (on the texturally diverse and dynamic “Dances With Ancestors”).
Hodge claims his compositions are purposefully skeletal to encourage and exploit the sort of spontaneous improvisations from his stylistically diverse cohorts that would justify the title of Live Today. But the disc’s identity, and lasting beauty, is found in his arrangements-fiendishly detailed, translucent layers that owe as much to great hip-hop producers as they do to Miles Davis, Weather Report or more mainstream jazz. The best tracks share this internally busy but externally mellow swath of interlocking blips, coos, grooves, strings, scratches, samples and pulsations, especially “The Real” and a six-song run in the middle of the disc beginning with the title track (featuring the rapper Common). For years, jazz and hip-hop went together like oil and water. But on Live Today, the hypnotic morphing of textures and timbres within these liquid arrangements herald new chemistry and creative fuel.