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Album review: Robert Glasper's 'Double Booked'

August 25, 2009 | 12:21 pm

Glasper240 It's a short list of jazz pianists who have the wherewithal to drop a J Dilla reference into a Thelonious Monk cover, but not many jazz pianists are Robert Glasper. He's equally comfortable in the worlds of hip-hop and jazz, and his latest album builds a bridge between his two musical touchstones.

Splitting time between the more traditional-minded Robert Glasper Trio in the album's first half and the genre-splitting electric band the Robert Glasper Experiment in its second, "Double Booked" holds together surprisingly well as a single piece. Introduced with a voice mail from trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the Trio hits its stride with Glasper's rollicking "Yes I'm Country (And That's OK)," a track that reels in and out of a number of tempo shifts and starts as notes tumble from Glasper's hands, all while drummer Chris Dave (who plays on both halves of the album) matches him stride for stride.

A reworking of "Think of One" closes the trio's set as Glasper captures Monk's singular, jagged style even as he melds it with touches of Ahmad Jamal's "Swahililand," a reference to the sample used for De La Soul's "Stakes Is High" that sets the table for the album's second half. The track should delight jazz purists even as they perhaps would be quick to dismiss the album's plugged-in second half.

Diving feet-first into jazz-funk with a vocoder-dusted rendering of Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly," Glasper switches between piano and a buttery Fender Rhodes, even exploring Return to Forever-esque fusion with the woozily pitch-bent "Festival," backed by some concise, eager saxophone by Casey Benjamin. With so many ideas seemingly racing to come out of both ensembles, it's inevitable that a few work less well than others (a guest appearance by Bilal on vocals feels out of place), but as a whole, the album proves that Glasper won't be pigeon-holed into one genre or another. And neither should jazz fans.

-- Chris Barton

Robert Glasper
"Double Booked"
Blue Note
Three stars