Jazz, And All That On Black Radio

I don’t listen to as much jazz as I’d like to or should. Perhaps because it’s a very involving music. At least for me it is. It makes me sit up and listen with an alertness that I don’t always display for most other genres – there just seems to be so much going on. Maybe I’m just conditioned to behaving that way with jazz. I listen, I feel enriched, I feel drained, but sadly, that exhaustion seems to dictate the frequency with which I pop a jazz CD into the player. But when I do play a jazz recording, it’s almost always a very rewarding experience as it has been with The Robert Glasper Experiment’s 2012 release ‘Black Radio’.

‘Black Radio’ pushes the boundaries of the genre and at the same tries to reach out to a new audience used to other forms of music. Every song but one has the Experiment, comprising pianist Robert Glasper, drummer Chris Dave, Casey Benjamin on wind instruments and bassist Derrick Hodge, playing with an artist usually associated with another genre, fusing jazz very smoothly with hip-hop, R&B/soul and just that bit of rock. The album starts with the appropriately titled ‘Lift Off’ featuring Shafiq Hussain who talk-sings his way through an introduction of the band and the album. And the others that follow keep the album soaring. There are three very impressive interpretations showcased in Erykah Badu’s soul-filled take on Cuban jazz in ‘Afro Blue’, Lalah Hathaway’s fabulous singing and rich presentation of Sade’s ‘Cherish The Day’ and Bilal’s more nuanced phrasing (and he does that without going all dramatic) on David Bowie’s ‘Letter To Hermione’. Bilal features again as he and Lupe Fiasco add colours of soul and rap to ‘Always Shine’. Me’shell Ndegeocello and the Experiment create a haunting, shifting, moody atmosphere on ‘The Consequences Of Jealousy’ and to my mind, a sense of a person reaching for something just out of grasp. Two of my favourite tracks on the album feature some frenetic rhythm sections on ‘Why Do We Try’ with Stockley and the title track which has Yasiin Bey (the musician/actor formerly known as Mos Def) at his rapid-fire best. The most interesting piece on the record though is the fourth interpretive piece on it and one which has no collaborator. This will likely have Nirvana fans screaming murder. But the cool, neo-jazz, distorted, vocorder-embellished reworking of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ has grown on me with each listening.

Ventures such as this often fall into a compromise pitfall dug by populism, but ‘Black Radio’ succeeds in its experiment without losing jazz’s essential character. The quartet weaves intricate and complex rhythms and harmonies into each of the 13 songs here while letting its collaborators do what they do best. Yet at no time does it seem contrived or disjointed. So-called purists I’m sure will not be thrilled with this but jazz has always been progressive. In time, I’m certain ‘Black Radio’ will be looked upon as one of jazz’s finest.



  1. Elliot says:

    I hardly ever listen to Jazz. I wish you could visit Amoeba records in Hollywood. It is a fab shop and they have a section at the back which is Jazz, blues, classical, and more, but just wandering into that makes you want to start buying up some records. But then in Jazz I barely know where to start. – I haven’t listened to the samples yet, but I shall try to in the next few days.


    1. DyingNote says:

      I’ve for long wished I lived in a record store, although my wife keeps saying that the way I buy music, our house will become one soon.

      I buy jazz records, specifically music that I’m new to, the same as other records. I’d come across something that seems interesting on reviews, hear samples somewhere and go ahead take the plunge. Sometimes, though, it’s purely instinctive/impulsive. This Robert Glasper CD I picked up at a store in Istanbul this summer past. It just seemed interesting (perhaps I’m a sucker for the word ‘Experiment’) because I’m fascinated by attempts to fuse genres. Fortunately for me, my impulse purchases have almost always turned out alright. So maybe there’s something screwed on right in my head.

      Let me know what you think of this one after you get a chance to hear the bits. Unfortunately, I upload only samples, not the full songs – don’t want to get into copyright hassles (not that my blog’s visited by a million people).


      1. gartsby says:

        I love Jazz although I tend to get mainstream music. I love Erykah Badu. I saw her live in Dublin a few years ago andshe was amazing. I love instrumentals like Kirk Whalum.

        Thanks for sharing the music 🙂
        I took a quick listen to a few of the samples. I will come back to listen some more. It is cool how I can listen and read your blog at the same time.


        1. DyingNote says:

          Whalum? I think you’ll like Jesse Cook then, if you already haven’t heard him.

          Black Radio is an interesting and I think an excellent attempt at taking Jazz to a different audience. In that sense purists may have a problem with it. Glad you like it.

          And thanks for your comment on the audio embedding. I should’ve used this WordPress audio tool much earlier.


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