Part of what has always made piano man Robert Glasper unique is his ability to confidently straddle two different scenes simultaneously — post-bop and hip-hop. He’s backed up everyone from Kanye West to Mos Def as well as maintaining his own forward-looking jazz trio. But while Glasper’s work with the trio has always betrayed a subtle hip-hop influence — mostly in the beats — the appropriately titled Double-Booked represents the first time he’s really combined these two streams into one roaring sonic river.
Glasper gleefully indulges in musical schizophrenia here, by delivering the first half of his album with his customary piano-bass-drums trio, and the second with the Robert Glasper Experiment, an electro-acoustic outfit that merges jazz, funk, hip-hop, and electronics. For those first six tunes, you might be tempted to fix your notion of Glasper as a post-bopper in a Brad Mehldau type of bag, one who has soaked up the lessons of everyone from Herbie Hancock to Keith Jarrett and incorporated them into a modern jazz style that looks toward the future while remaining more or less within the boundaries of the form.
Then there’s that second half. When Glasper moves over to the electric piano, substitutes electric bassist Derrick Hodge for standup bass man Vincente Archer, and brings in Casey Benjamin on saxes and vocoder (not to mention guest vocalists Mos Def and Bilal and turntablist Jahi Sundance on a couple of cuts), it’s like somebody pulled aside the curtains, raised the blinds, and flung open the window to let a blaze of multi-colored light and rich, sweet-scented air come rushing in.
But when the hip-hop and R&B grooves start flying, and the synthesizer-like sounds of Benjamin’s vocoder-processed sax start filling up the spaces, a funny thing happens. For all its obvious modernity, the Experiment’s sound somehow echoes classic ’70s fusion by the likes of Hancock’s Head Hunters or early Weather Report. Somehow, it all comes together and sounds like part of the same musical world, showing that Glasper can point the way ahead for jazz while still nodding to the pillars of the past.