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Words By Eric K. Arnold

With a mountain of hype surrounding his new album Black Radio–currently lodged at #1 jazz, #4 hip-hop/R&B on the Billboard charts—21st century jazzman Robert Glasper has been anointed as both the future and the savior of black music. Needless to say, expectations were sky-high going into his band The Robert Glasper Experiment’s sold-out Oakland show on St. Patrick’s Day.

The long set lived up to both those lofty expectations and its experimental billing. The opening number affixed a vocoderized chant and hip-hoppish drums to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” suggesting an updated, unorthodox take on jazz tradition. Glasper’s genius lies in his ability to widen jazz’s pop cultural scope without bastardizing the genre’s integrity—a point the RGE reinforced with covers of David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermione” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Absent (most of) the celebrity cameos of the Black Radio album, the RGE’s live show hinged on its musical qualities.  Glasper kept his solos to a minimum, giving his brilliant sidemen Casey Benjamin (vocoder/keytar/saxophone/flute), Derrick Hodge (bass), Mark Colenburg (drums), and Bilal (vocals) ample time to shine.

When the pianist–who spent much of the night sandwiched between a baby grand piano and a synthesizer– did step out, however, it was mesmerizing.  Two hours in, the multigenerational, multicultural audience was enrapt, ears perked, eyes cocked to the stage, engaged in active listening.

That’s what you’d call a successful experiment.

Learn more about The Robert Glasper Experiment in the EPK below:

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