It could easily have been a mission impossible for Robert Glasper to render the music from two of recent years’ most groundbreaking albums within crossover jazz, namely his Black Radio and the sophomore Black Radio 2. Featuring a who’s who of artists from American urban intelligentsia (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Norah Jones to name but a few), the two records are predominantly vocal-based, making it not only an expensive but also unviable setup to take on tour.
Out of necessity – and intelligence – Glasper had therefore stripped it down to only include the instrumentation, but as the attentive listener would know, it is an equally as integral part of the Black Radio universe – if not more. With an original constellation of Chris Dave, Derrick Hodge and Casey Benjamin (all of whom have went on to pursue their individual careers) in addition to Glasper himself, the accumulated experience of The Experiment is equivalent to that of any jazz legend, and even the fact that only the two latter were present this night in Copenhagen, did not compromise the expressiveness.
Coming on stage as casual as only a cool cat can with a toothpick in his mouth and a tongue-in-cheek look, Glasper and his entourage – this night made up of Mark Colenburg, Burniss Earl Travis (filling in for Derrick Hodge, who was doing his own gig in D.C.) and aforementioned Benjamin – effortlessly proved that they could counterbalance the vocal polyphony of the albums, as the quartet almost spoke in unison. Musically, that is.
Thus the consecutive arrangements gave the illusion of an ongoing playlist as if it had been an album(!), but also necessitated the musicians to take breaks between one another, allowing for the showcase of each of them individually and in intelligent interplay with Glasper. Especially the symbiotic mutuality between Glasper’s floating finger technique and Colenburgs accentuated march drums worked as a testimony to the notion of ‘two minds, one thought’, exemplified in the intermezzo that led up to the powerful rendition of ‘Let It Ride’.
Yet vocoder virtuoso Casey Benjamin caught most of the attention as a man that literally lives and breathes music. Along with the rest of the band he gave a surprising cover of last year’s megahit ‘Get Lucky’, that avoided the pitfall of making just another jazzified version that many have already opted at, and instead remained faithful to the original by solely adding some minor chords, consequently revealing the poetry of postmodern pop music when stripped of its mask (or space helmet).
As can be seen, the structure of the night was more like that of a jazz than R&B-concert, with integrated solos and jams, letting the instruments take front stage. Being that it was Friday night, the dramaturgy could have called for a climax, but instead the audience were invited to participate in a multi-plot story with downbeats in the history of African-American music, that in addition to the abovementioned also included a reinterpretation of Bill Wither’s classic ‘Lovely Day’, the compulsory Dilla tribute that started out in Billie Holiday’s ‘Body and Soul’ and took turns to ‘Smell’s Like Teen Spirit’ before a tour de force performance of The Experiment’s own breakthrough hit ‘All Matter’ as encore.
In many ways also a mission impossible, as the Danish crowd supposedly would know more of the mainstream Robert Glasper than the jazzy discography of his, but instead of choosing the ‘easy’ option to play the Black Radio-repertoire back to back, he and his Experiment employed the challenging tactic of inviting the audience in by the backdoor to let them perceive the music from the inside out rather than the opposite – as one would usually do when listening to the radio. For the same reason, the unproportionally high degree of white noise in Koncerthuset did not interfere with the Black Radio, as it had its own frequency this night.