The Art of Robert Glasper
November 22, 2016

The Art of Robert Glasper

On Double Booked, his 2009 concept album for Blue Note records, pianist Robert Glasper played around with the idea of being torn between two venues-slash-identities: the dance club and the jazz hall. The first half of Booked found Glasper playing in a hard-swinging acoustic trio anchored by his fearsome piano chops. (That’s where he turned it loose on Monk’s “Think of One.”) And the second half of this double-album set was the debut of Glasper’s electric-fusion “Experiment” ensemble. (This is the band that frequently works with emcees like Snoop Dogg and Yasiin Bey, as well as R&B talents like Erykah Badu and Brandy.) The brief skits on Double Booked were meant to be excerpts from messages left on Glasper’s voicemail (ah, the 2000s!), evidence of different collaborators pulling an over-stretched keyboardist in one stylistic direction or another.But the not-so-well-kept secret is that this creative hustle is the way Glasper prefers to live his artistic life. He signaled his interest in blowing past archaic genre-divisions back in 2007, on his trio album In My Element — also known as the album where he created a medley from Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place.” Since then, he’s used his supposedly “jazz coded” acoustic trio to cover works by Kendrick Lamar (“I’m Dying of Thirst”), while also putting some extended, exploratory soloing into his “Experiment” ensemble (see that group’s performance of the Glasper original tune “Festival”). On the occasion of Glsaper’s latest release with the Experiment, we’ve collected some of his best compositions and performances, whether they draw inspiration from pop, rock, rap, jazz—or all of the above. Naturally, we’ve included his bravura guest-artist appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, too.

The Best Jazz Songs of 2017 So Far
May 6, 2017

The Best Jazz Songs of 2017 So Far

Whenever it seems impossible to sum up the state of jazz, that’s usually good news. It means that the genre remains one of America’s (and the world’s) most inventive traditions. Here are 20 tracks, available on streaming services, that have left a strong impression over the first half of 2017.A partial rundown: Trumpeter Christian Scott experimented with trap-music influences (“The Reckoning”). Suave Blue Note singer José James veered into contemporary R&B territory with his album Love In A Time of Madness—but also made room for one vintage-sounding come-hither number (“To Be With You”). Bob Dylan’s pipes aren’t anywhere as flexible as James’, but his triple-disc set of standards, Triplicate, offered surprisingly warm takes on jazz standards like “Stardust.” And a crew of jazz veterans including drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist John Scofield turned in a sizzling instrumental interpretation of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”Jazz was mixing (and scrambling) everyone’s preferred musical categories long before “blurring the boundaries” became a cliché. So we’ve included sometime classical-pianist Cory Smythe’s partly improvised “Blockchain.” (Smythe also plays on a vivid new avant-garde set from saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.) Cellist Tomeka Reid appears in the string trio Hear In Now, as well as in bands led by Jaimie Branch and Nicole Mitchell. Elsewhere, we’ve got swinging fire from the likes of Miguel Zenón (playing his own composition “Academia”), while Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra dig into the music of Modern Jazz Quartet co-founder John Lewis. Improvisers are off to a potent start in 2017—thanks to pop-song inspiration, big-band tradition, fusion energy, and an overall taste for experimentation.

Indie Rock Face-Off: Neo vs. ’90s

The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.

The Year in ’90s Metal

It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.

Out of the Stacks: ’90s College Radio Staples Still At It

Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.