Robert Glasper is the first young, largely unknown jazz musician signed by Blue Note Records since the legendary label signed Bill Charlap five years ago. As a result, expectations are high for the Houston pianist and his first U.S. release, "Canvas." Some observers are already pushing him to the forefront of the movement of young pianists -- Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Lafayette Gilchrist and Ethan Iverson -- who are rewriting the jazz vocabulary with idioms borrowed from funk, hip-hop and rock. Let's keep things in perspective: Glasper is good, but he's not that good.
Glasper earned his neo-soul and hip-hop credentials by touring with Bilal (who adds wordless vocals to two tracks on "Canvas"), Q-Tip and Mos Def and earned his jazz bona fides by working steadily in small New York clubs. On "Canvas," some of the rhythmic phrasing does allude to hip-hop, especially when bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Damion Reid come to the fore, but Glasper is essentially a mainstream-jazz pianist in the "Young Lions" mode. In other words, he has more influences than experience, more technique than vision.
Glasper runs through chords and arpeggios in both hands as briskly and fluidly as some pianists handle single notes in the right hand, and the thickened harmonies he accumulates along the way often make his piano trio sound like a quartet. He recorded a Hancock composition on his 2003 Spanish CD, "Mood," and another on "Canvas," and Glasper's own writing aims for his role model's fleet lyricism. But Glasper's compositions and solos still lack definition, and his waves of notes often sound more decorative than momentous. It's no coincidence that the two best tracks are the only two that feature the brilliant young saxophonist Mark Turner.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Wednesday at Blues Alley.