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R+R=NOW: Collagically Speaking (Blue Note)

Review of debut album by the all-star collective

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Cover of R+R=NOW album Collagically Speaking
Cover of R+R=NOW album Collagically Speaking

Despite the heady declaration on the CD sleeve that begins, “We wanna make art that means something,” and ends, “This is our time to tell our truth,” keyboardist Robert Glasper seems to have assembled this supergroup—the other members are trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, bassist Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizers, drummer Justin Tyson, and Terrace Martin on synth and vocoder—without much of an agenda. R+R stands for Reflect and Respond, inspired by Nina Simone’s call for artists to “reflect the times,” and the sextet went into the studio with little more guidance than that; the material was crafted spontaneously, and single takes often sufficed. Glasper and crew counted on raw talent and collective inspiration to dictate the results, and it’s a gamble that pays off: This is powerful stuff without trying to be.

It’s also surprisingly chill. There is no stridency or anger; the “respond” part of the charter seems to have been an agreement not to add more noise to the global cacophony but rather to provide refuge from all that. The compositions are credited primarily to all or most of the sextet, with the occasional extra collaborator (mostly Rose McKinney, Martin’s mother and writing partner) chipping in, and in that same spirit, Collagically Speaking is obsessed not so much with the individual soloist as with the singlemindedness a dedicated group can achieve.

“Change of Tone,” the first single and opening track, is indicative: Rolling easily to Tyson’s funky but slack rhythm, it finds a line where classic ’70s soul, unobtrusive electronica, accessible CTI jazz, and a decidedly undramatic hip-hop sensibility can share a space. Only rarely does the groove deviate: “Reflect Reprise,” featuring a vocal by Stalley, derives its mesmeric rhythm from old-school reggae, and “Resting Warrior,” with its spacey mélange of electronic keyboards, brings to mind Herbie Hancock’s more danceable ’80s experiments.

Preview, buy or download Collagically Speaking on Amazon!

Originally Published