To see him live you are in awe. Not just for memories of the first time, a tour de force of modern jazz at Pizza Express. Or the second time, a mesmeric meeting between Glasper and drummer Chris Dave at the Jazz Café. Or even the last time, a melange of nu classical soul and jazz, at Ronnie Scotts. No, Glasper in the flesh is more than the sum of his collective live performances. His tall, broad frame radiates charisma, his easy going charm relays confidence and his Southern (American) roots. Glasper inspires awe in his audience.
But there have been cracks in the force. The Ronnie Scott’s shows though very good, had the Experiment band over-using a vocoder; verging at times on the naff. The Trio band, who completed the Ronnie Scott’s residency, sometimes played the over-familiar or jammed rather than the unexpected or full songs. Small criticisms in a sea of high praise for Glasper’s live shows, though the worries began with the Chris Dave solo show at Charlie Wright’s in 2009 (more jamming, less structure).
And so to the show. One word. Immense. The performance was a powerhouse of modern soul grooves, heavy hip hop rhythms all under a jazz umbrella.
Arriving at the venue – a two floor site with large exposed beams and air conditioning vents – we heard Eric Lau play a set for an hour and a half finishing just before 10pm. No easy task in front of a crowd eager to see the main act, but Lau, producer and – as his set testified – a very good DJ, was excellent.
Glasper and his Experiment band: Derrick Hodge, bass; Mark Colenburg , drums; and Casey Benjamin, keys/vocoder took to the stage at 10pm.
The band improvised through two hours of mainly new material (though tracks from the new album ‘Black Moon’ were barely touched upon), covers (Little Dragon’s ‘Twice’, an audience favourite) and some classic Glasper tunes (‘All Matter’).
Out went the familiar and in came the new. The cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a full on rock version, mirroring Glasper’s wide taste in music. ‘ Dillalude’ was radically changed, with only the ‘Fall In Love’ homage remaining.
My over familiarity with the Glasper live experience, borne out of seeing Glasper seven times in four years (and I still curse myself for the three other shows I had to miss), should be put into context. I got the impression that the majority of the crowd, who were mainly in their late teens and early Twenties, would have been happy to hear the Dilla tribute knocked out a hundred times. But as a seasoned Glasper veteran it was pleasing to hear new material which grabbed you with such ferocity, hence my powerhouse comment earlier, that you were once again in awe of the master.
The signs from the first few seconds were good. The Experiment launched into a heavy funk version of ‘A Love Supreme’, cutting it in half and taking it into a celestial jazz space (akin to Gary Bartz’s early Seventies jazz albums).
The band were awesome. Derrick Hodge was impressive on bass, and Colenburg can lay to rest the Chris Dave comparisons, as he ably demonstrated he’s a brilliant drummer in his own right. Multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin handled keyboard and ‘effects’ duties well, although it was when he grabbed the saxophone that he really impressed. Again he was on vocoder duties; I would much prefer normal vocals, but I found the vocoder less intrusive than the Ronnie Scott shows.
Two things I would change. The venue’s exposed beams/vents led to some feedback and a tinny sound. It didn’t spoil the show but the sound could have been better. And I would love to hear ‘Black Moon’ (the Mos Def collaboration from the new album) and ‘Afro Blue’ (featuring Erykah Badu). That would have been the icing on the cake. Otherwise I’m still in awe….