Robert Glasper Experiment mixes jazz, hip-hop

Robert Glasper has found that the best way to make music is to not think about it and just do it.
Robert Glasper bring the Robert Glasper Experiment to The Egg in Albany Sunday night. (photo: Mike Schreiber)
Robert Glasper bring the Robert Glasper Experiment to The Egg in Albany Sunday night. (photo: Mike Schreiber)

Robert Glasper has found that the best way to make music is to not think about it and just do it.

The jazz pianist and hip-hop producer’s latest project, the hip-hop/soul/jazz hybrid the Robert Glasper Experiment, has been in the works since 2006, slowly unleashed in phases on the world — YouTube videos of early live performances led to the group’s studio debut on the second half of the 2009 double album “Double-Booked.”

In February, the band released its first full-length album, “Black Radio,” and a six-song remix EP, “Black Radio Recovered,” is due out Tuesday.

Unplanned music

While the band’s unveiling was meticulously planned, the music was another story.

The sessions for “Black Radio,” which featured numerous vocal guests including Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Mos Def and frequent collaborator Bilal, were largely improvised.

Robert Glasper Experiment

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

How Much: $24

More Info: 473-1845,

“I didn’t have any preconceived thoughts with ‘Black Radio,’ volume one — I didn’t know what it would sound like, I just did it,” Glasper said from a tour stop at the House of Blues in Chicago.

“The best way to do it is to don’t think about it. . . . That’s why you get the feeling of jazz in there — a lot of it’s improvised; a lot of it wasn’t rehearsed. Pretty much, the people walked in and played, a lot of it on the spot. We always want to keep that element, which is the soul, the spine of jazz, of improvisation, of being in the moment.”

There will be a “Black Radio, Volume 2” — Glasper hopes to enter the studio with the four-piece Experiment and a new crop of guest vocalists early next year. As with the first one, he has no idea what the new one will sound like.

This year, Glasper has focused solely on touring with the Experiment — featuring himself on Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, Casey Benjamin on vocoder and saxophone and Chris Dave on drums. Their current tour includes a stop at The Egg on Sunday night.

Both younger jazz heads and hip-hop enthusiasts have been gravitating to the genre-blending on “Black Radio,” which features originals, standards such as the Badu-sung “Afro Blue” and rock like the group’s modal take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And that was the goal all along.

Tapping other worlds

“I wanted to make an album that everybody could listen to and like, versus just making albums for jazz cats,” Glasper said. “There’s a circle of jazz musicians . . . that make albums for other jazz musicians. I’m a realist — no matter how good a jazz album is, it doesn’t mean you can get regular people to like it. I’m tapping into other music I like — I can play R&B, hip-hop, soul. I play with the best of those people in those worlds, tapping in from other stuff I like, while at the same time keeping the jazz spine.”

Live, the band further experiments with improvisation, choosing covers or older songs along with tracks from “Black Radio” that they can reproduce without the guest stars.

“We just do certain songs that translate well — we can’t do the Lupe Fiasco songs or the Mos Def songs, but Casey has the vocoder and we can translate it and it works,” Glasper said.

He has always split his time between jazz and hip-hop, and the two have always influenced each other, although The Experiment is the most he’s ever blended the two. Influenced by his mother, a professional jazz singer, Glasper picked up piano at an early age, playing in church. He attended the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, where he first met soul singer Bilal.

Band on back burner

His first solo album, “Mood,” appeared in 2003. At the time, he was focused on his acoustic jazz trio, while also working as producer with Kanye West, Mos Def, J Dilla and Badu, among others. Although The Experiment formed in 2006, aside from a handful of New York City gigs Glasper kept the group on the back burner until the release of “Double-Booked.”

“I didn’t want to put it out too early; I wanted to definitely keep doing the trio thing and kind of solidify myself and get respect as a jazz pianist, then hit them with this experiment,” he said. “I feel people take you more seriously once you get that respect as a solidified musician, before you start playing hip-hop tracks.”

“Double-Booked” was another way to ease audiences in, with the first half of the album featuring Glasper’s acoustic trio and the second half dedicated to The Experiment.

“When I do a record, I always take my time, because I want to do something,” he said.

Not just a filler

“I want to always put out a record that doesn’t feel like a filler record. A lot of people put out a record and it’s like, why’d you even put that out? It’s not better than the last one, there’s not anything different, it’s just another record, just different songs. I like to do it a different way — I put out a record and I want it to be something different that people probably haven’t heard or seen before, even if it’s just different for me.”

Because Glasper takes his time, he wanted to give his audience something in between albums, hence the remix EP. The remixes on “Black Radio Recovered,” done by artists ranging from The Roots’ drummer Questlove to Pete Rock, push the sound further into the hip-hop world.

“It’s with different producers that I’ve always liked, so it’s showcasing another side,” Glasper said.

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