PIAF - The Robert Glasper Experiment and Roy Ayers - 27/02/14
Listen to this mighty Spotify playlist whilst perusing this writing. It will show you truly what you missed out on.
As it happened, Roy Ayers, advertised as “featuring” at this show by the organisers, actually only played a short set before Glasper came out, highlighted by his famous 'Everybody Loves the Sunshine' but marred by his limited support (a DJ, backing vocalist and saxophonist) and the absence of his famous vibes playing due to a tehcnical hitch. Some people behind me lamented that he'd been “Perthed” by our shoddy sound-guys and backwoods technology, but at least there was an upside. When the vibes started working (to a huge crowd pop) in the last track, 'Runaway...', Ayers went on a manic, five-minute solo run. A quick best and worst of the warm-up set. Best: Ayers' solo, an interpolation of 'Not Just Knee Deep' by Funkadelic in 'Everybody...', shouty live infomercials for his recent albums, the general happy atmosphere. Worst: Small backing band Ayers has come with a full accompaniment in the past, short set, technical issues. I thought beforehand that Ayers may have played a bit with Glasper's band as well and but it was not to be. Hopefully next time Ayers is back with a full band and, in his own words “A real vibraphone that actually works”.
Robert Glasper has been through a million changes since he first broke with Bluenote in 2004 on Mood, recording liquid piano based light jazz. Now he's a practical-focussed neo-soul anthologist, making music that collates and continues the styles of the Soulquarians, Me'Shell Ndegecello, Bobby Miller as well as earlier influences like Bill Withers and his touring buddy Roy Ayers. However, he doesn't set up a wall at each of his recording personae.
Each part of his formal and cultural development is filtered into his live shows; hell, he was a jazz-guy brave enough to expose the Bluenote crowd to 'Dillatude' more than six years before he started releasing RnB as a matter of course. And while in his former life he was introducing the bold, atypical rhythms of underground hip hop into modern jazz, Glasper (keys), and his band of Casey Benjamin (vocoder, tenor sax, soprano sax), Mark Collenburg (drums, pads) and Derrick Hodge (Bass), are now (and have been for five or so years in various forms) the best live hip hop performers in the world, turning the history of soul and rap into Zeppelin-esque jams by performers with intense formal jazz backgrounds.
Zeppelin's 'Since I've Been Loving You' is actually a pretty popular base for jams by soul and funk bands. Certainly Glasper 's collaborator Bilal has performed it regularly. Mark Collenburg and Derrick Hodge last night were given showcases akin to the Zeppelin 'Moby Dick' jam, during which John Bonham and Jimmy Page used to play 30 minute solos while the rest of the badn went off for beer: the other members leaning back and admiring the individual talents of their musical partners. The whole show bore the mark of this attitude to performance, solos that in the jazz tradition stood out against their tight, atmospheric backing, while keeping up with the tempo and key shifts going on behind them. They even went full 'Moby Dick' when Derrick Hodge got his showpiece, Glasper, Collenburg and Benjamin leaving the stage while Hodge played a long bass solo which raged a gamut of styles from Flamenco to slap.
The set is largely made up of versions of tracks from the Experiment's recently released Black Radio 2 covers of various songs that influence RnB performers in 2014. It's not just RnB songs too, as generally popular “white” bands like Nirvana, Radiohead and Daft Punk have also become signifiers for producers of black music, and their tracks were covered spectacularly at the Garden. To call them covers perhaps doesn't do justice though. They're renditions in the jazz sense, sometimes the only true link to the original tracks being Casey Benjamin's Vocodered vocals (via Roland keytar). The resulting jams reveal deeper influences and stylistic inflections.
'No Church in the Wild', which starts by crystallising its infectious bass stomp out of the remnants of the 'Black Radio 2 Intro' that opened the set, turns into a canvas for Benjamin's muscular double-tracked Mulatu-esque saxophone. 'Get Lucky' takes a detour from its rote neo-disco basis to become a mix of vampish 80s synth-pop keys and Brainfeeder glitch played on live drums. Mark Collenburg seems to be a graduate of the free-form percussion school, while also consistently dropping in on his real drumkit the weird patterns of producers who used drum machines to make sounds that never made sense previously to real drummers. Tropes from producers like Dilla and Timbaland who stuck rim-shots and powerful snare-hits where no real drummer would have previously imagined them, are now being used by real drummers like Collenburg, who could be the best guy doing it.
The crowd's repsonse was a mixture of stunned amusement, peaking when they recognised a track through the sprawl, and wild admiration at the calm technical superiority of the musicians and inventiveness of their fluid transitions between songs and jams. The show ended with one of the most honest and sincere calls for an encore I've ever seen. Glasper responded by announcing an impromptu Dilla tribute, spanning his soulquarian period working with Common, with 'The Light' and 'Thelonious' (I think) at its centrepiece and closing off with a huge, noise-inflected version of 'Everybody Loves the Sunshine'. The experiment walked of the stage, with Glasper emanating modest humour, thanking the crowd among whom, at the start of the set he joked, only 7 had heard of him before.
When it ended Glasper and his bandmates were hanging outside meeting admiring fans. I took the opportunity to … awkwardly … hug him and thank him for the show. I told him how much I loved their Bilal cover 'All Matter', and how it was the best show I'd seen since Funkadelic over a year ago. I hope he wasn't too embarrassed by my gushing actions. I never quite find the words to articulately explain to anyone how I get when I have a transcendent experience. It's the emotion you get in a religious family when you hear the rabbi sound off in your synagogue at age 8 before you decide it's all bullshit. It's fucking spiritual man.
Note: I've made a spotify playlist of all the tracks I recognised them play last night. Unfortunately for some reason In Rainbows is the only Radiohead album not on spotify, so that track will be performed by the Yoga Pop Ups. Take it away, Boys!