Last Sunday, the Robert Glasper Experiment swung by Rotterdam on a tour that continues from here to Moscow and Sweden before hitting Canadian parts to the west of Saskatoon later in June. Then they return to Rotterdam for the North Sea Jazz Festival in early July followed by a whole slew of European summer jazz festivals… Robert Glasper will be on your doorstep. Sooner or later.
The venue on Sunday night was as hot and sticky as my Tokyo flat in the years before air-conditioning went viral. Not being seasoned jazzistas, my partner-in-arts and I arrived breathless after a very fast 15 minute walk to make the 20:30 time printed on the ticket, so we had already worked up a sweat before diving into the event space. Half an hour later when the musicians strolled onto the stage, the atmosphere was thick and viscous. Fortunately, we had managed to grab seats so I sank back and tried not to think about the requirement for oxygen.
I discovered Robert Glasper thanks to a BBC3 broadcast from the London Jazz Festival last November. Captivated by the piano playing I heard on the radio, I was very excited when his name appeared on the jazz program at LantarenVenster here in Rotterdam.
For a taster of the piano playing, go to Robert Glasper’s website and click on the link for music to hear a couple of tracks from the album Double Booked.
This profile posted on YouTube features a short interview and more piano.
There was a strong whiff of Experiment about the start of the evening. The vocalist Casey Benjamin kicked things off with a tribute to E equals MC squared done in eerie vocals by passing the voice through a vocoder. The voice was otherworldly, hypnotic even, but the whole thing seemed to be a teasing reference to the Experiment, and a setup for sound check, because Robert Glasper spent most of the piece signaling messages to the sound guy at the back of the room, or diving under the keyboard with a roll of tape. Eventually, things fell into place and we were treated to a marvel of jazz mixed up with hip-hop influences, a lot more vocoder, and great solos from the sax, clarinet and drums. Not to mention some funky piano and keyboard by Robert Glasper, occasionally playing the keyboard with one hand and piano with the other! The bass guitarist was the only person who didn’t get a chance to shine but perhaps he had an off night. According to John Fordham writing in The Guardian about a concert played at Ronnie Scott’s in London a few days earlier, the bass guitar started the evening off instead of the spooky vocoder. All part of the Experiment perhaps?
Now, I’m debating whether to go to the North Sea Jazz Festival or not. Some of my favorite musicians will be there… Paul Simon! Brad Mehldau! Robert Glasper! Ahmad Jahmal! And many more discoveries to make!! If only the venue weren’t the thoroughly depressing Ahoy Rotterdam. Tickets are also a bit steep…