Review: Robert Glasper, Norwich




"When Glasper did play a piano solo, over an hour into the set, it was beautifully crafted and delicately performed: more of the same would have been very welcome. Still, Experiment is a band, not one man and some backing musicians," writes BRUCE LINDSAY

Robert GlasperWe're not in too much of a hurry round Norfolk way, so the full house at Norwich Playhouse waited patiently for the Robert Glasper Experiment. Arriving on stage 40 minutes late Glasper explained (the vagaries of international air travel were to blame) and apologised with charm. An hour and 40 minutes later, East Anglian reserve pushed aside, the audience gave the band a deserved standing ovation.

In between, Experiment delivered seven songs, from its interpretation of A Love Supreme to an encore of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. Despite the occasional slide into extended, technically impressive but unfocused improvisations this was an engaging performance that emphasised Experiment's ability to lay down slinky, hypnotic, grooves.

The rhythm section was superb. Bass guitarist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg (replacing Chris Dave for this tour) are contrasting yet complementary players. Hodge is a class act: his solo on Butterfly was lyrical and fluid, making use of every inch of the fretboard; his work in underpinning his fellow players was precise and supportive. Colenburg is much showier, a powerhouse, lightning-fast, percussionist whose high-energy solo demonstrated a great sense of dynamics. Locked in tight together on slower tunes like Oh Yeah from Black Radio the duo were a joy to hear. Sadly Hodge's six-string bass, which stood next to him all night, was never used.

Much of the success of Black Radio stems from Experiment's integration of hip-hop grooves with the performances of guest vocalists such as Bilal and Erykah Badu. In Norwich keytarist and saxophonist Casey Benjamin handled vocals, altering his voice with his trademark vocoder. The sound has its moments, but across an entire set it became a little repetitive, lyrics often submerged beneath the technology. Benjamin's finest moment came when he abandoned such effects to deliver an inventive and punchy soprano sax solo.
 
Glasper stayed off to one side between the piano and a bank of electric keyboards, his contributions often difficult to hear, particularly when Colenburg was in full flight. When Glasper did play a piano solo, over an hour into the set, it was beautifully crafted and delicately performed: more of the same would have been very welcome. Still, Experiment is a band, not one man and some backing musicians. When things were flowing, the groove was tight and Colenburg and Hodge were in the zone, Experiment was a great band.


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