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Robert Glasper: Double Booked

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Formidable pianist Robert Glasper joins the ranks of jazz bandleaders and project-makers, alongside Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Stefon Harris and others, who deftly juggle acoustic “mainstream” jazz with more plugged-in and groove-lined sounds. But whereas other musicians often separate out those instincts into different bands and recordings, Glasper dares to mix and match the personae on this novel twofer album.

Playing up the conceptual quirk of the venture, splitting the album between tracks by his acoustic trio (with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Chris Dave) and the Robert Glasper Experiment (with Dave and electric bassist Derrick Hodge), Glasper includes voicemail cameos from Terence Blanchard and the Roots’ Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, both vying for his presence in different settings and venues. Clearly Glasper has both approaches well covered, extending energy, intrigue and grace on both grand piano and Fender Rhodes.

On the acoustic side, Glasper’s sweet-spirited tune “59 South,” in homage to a route in his home turf of Texas, yields to the cerebral feistiness of his re-read of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.” In the “electric” portion of the program, Mos Def pays a quick aural visit, our indication that it’s time to plug in. Glasper pays double respects to a hero by covering the sinuous Herbie Hancock tune “Butterfly”—and Hancock, of course, is another earlier generation master of both the acoustic and electric domains. Casey Benjamin (also heard on Stefon Harris’ new, funk-ified album) brandishes his distinctive vocoder chops, and works out on assorted gadgetry and actual saxophone on the extended “Festival,” weaving around Glasper’s keyboard multi-tasking, acoustic and otherwise.

In the end, Double Booked contains much admirable music and playing, at both the acoustic and electric ends of the spectrum, and affirms Glasper’s place in the upper ranks of keyboardists on the scene. But the jury is still out on whether the stylistic-diversity scheme expands or divides artistic focus.

Originally Published