ArtScience, the latest release from Robert Glasper’s Experiment band, begins with the keyboardist’s trademarked take on acoustic jazz, like Bud Powell and prime Herbie passed through a J Dilla filter. Soon enough comes Glasper’s spoken mission statement, containing all the subtlety of an opening quote in a press release: “The reality is my people have given the world so many styles of music. … So why should I just confine myself to one? We want to explore them all.”
“All” is of course figurative speech, but Glasper and his longtime electric unit, including bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Mark Colenburg and saxophonist/vocalist Casey Benjamin, do pluck from the past few decades of jazz and pop, evincing everything from George Duke to backpacker hip-hop to prog to Daft Punk. Most important, the style-blending is done in a cohesive and meaningful way. And while it’s no surprise that the jazz component is executed with expertise, the pop quotient is equally as sharp, and far stronger than the contemporary material on the Experiment’s last album, the guest-filled Black Radio 2. Above and beyond the sonics and musicality of fusion, Glasper and company, especially Benjamin, demonstrate here the knowledge and instincts of studio hitmakers.
In other words, dudes can write hooks. ArtScience‘s highlights intertwine the subtly powerful grooves of 21st-century R&B; lyrics focused almost solely on love and devotion, sung by the musicians through robotic effects, the Capitol reverb of current pop; and melodies worthy of single status. But these earworms also often stretch to jazz length-“No One Like You” clocks in at nine-minutes-plus-leaving ample space for fantastic Rhodes and synth work and the kind of deep improvisational rapport you can expect to hear during a live set. ArtScience is a comprehensive success.