Editors' pick

Discover Ellington: Robert Glasper


Editorial Review

Album review: "Black Radio"
By Jess Righthand
Friday, Feb. 10, 2012

At the moment, pianist-producer Robert Glasper holds an unusual status in music: He's one of the only pianists shortlisted by rappers and jazz cats alike. He's worked with Jay-Z and J Dilla, but also with Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove.

Glasper's new album, "Black Radio," reads like a statement of purpose that leaves no doubt about the intriguing possibilities that can unfold when interweaving jazz and hip-hop.

The record falls closer to the hip-hop end of the spectrum. The beats, song structure and guest vocalists tend toward contemporary R&B. But underneath the catchy hooks and harmonies is the understated yet persistent presence of Glasper's piano infusing each song with unexpected chord voicings and the occasional free solo. The hooks and harmonies supplant the basic melody and chord changes of jazz standards, providing a different, more open-ended - and often, more interesting - framework for improvisation.

"Black Radio" is largely helped by its all-star cast. Erykah Badu's voice fits the song "Afro Blue" like a glove, and appearances by Bilal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild and Lalah Hathaway are eloquent and cohesive, not gratuitous.

Those who tend to find jazz inaccessible or hip-hop too repetitive should take a listen to "Black Radio." This is an experiment that really works.