Robert Glasper’s new jazz infused soul album, ‘Black Radio’, a slight detour from his jazz output (albeit with a strong hip hop influence), is mostly very good. Aside from some well-worn samples of his own work, this is a welcome return for the master musician.
Stand out tracks are a delectable cover of ‘Afro-Blue’, featuring Erykah Badu, and the title track featuring Mos Def (reminiscent of his classic ‘Universal Magnetic’ track). Listening to the album for the past three months, my initial impression was mixed. The bigger sounding aforementioned tracks balanced out some average (dare I say it radio friendly) material (e.g ‘Always Shine’ featuring Lupe Fiasco, ‘Letter to Hermione’ featuring Bilal etc). In actual fact, after many months of play, these tracks are well above average.
Radio friendly yes, but they have in common a laid-back vibe coupled with sensitive playing which gradually seeps into the consciousness. So the album demands time for the listener to be fully rewarded. This is most evident in ‘Consequence of Jealousy’ showcasing MeShell Ndegeocello’s whispered vocals, and Glasper’s floaty playing.
If you’re new to Robert Glasper and with an ear for tougher, beat-led jazz, then you will probably love this. Seasoned Glasper fans will hear samples, interludes and snatches of classic tracks interwoven with new material. For example ‘Gonna Be Alright (FTB)’ is based upon ‘F.T.B’ from the ‘In My Element’ album, a great track no doubt to base a vocal version around (here featuring the excellent singing prowess of Ledisi) but a little well-worn for me. The hook from ‘Butterfly’ from the ‘Double Booked’ is also revisited on ‘Black Radio’ and there are other snatches of Glasper sounds heard before. These familiar refrains from previous tracks don’t quite work for me.
‘Why Do We Try’, featuring Stokely Williams, redresses this somewhat, with a melange of random hip hop, disordered jazz beats and a jazz/soul vocal. All new sounds to boot. The album ends with a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ a live favourite. The track features Casey Benjamin on vocoder, depending on my mood, Benjamin’s vocoder effects are either annoying or infectious. I have heard the Experiment (Robert Glasper’s funk band featuring Benjamin) many times now and his vocals grate. Maybe time will change my mind again.
All in all this is a very good – verging on excellent – album, which bravely sees Glasper move from the jazz terrain to new pastures which works very well.