Q&A with Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper's latest Blue Note effort, Double Booked, shows just how well the pianist straddles the jazz and hip-hop worlds. While he flexes his jazz chops within the confines of an acoustic trio setting during the first half of the disc, he delves into more forward thinking hip-hop territory influenced by Herbie Hanckcock's Head Hunters.

As the album's might suggest, he's also got himself into situations where he has been double booked, as noted by two voicemails included on the album. The first one is left by trumpeter Terence Blanchard asking Glasper to play at his club with the trio. The second half of the disc opens with a voice-mail message from Roots drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, asking Glasper to bring the Experiment to a jam session hosted by his band. It was the only time Glasper was asked to play in two different groups on the same night.

Speaking of the same night, in advance of his upcoming two-night stand at Dazzle this week (Thursday and Friday 18 and 19), we spoke with Glasper from his home in Brooklyn about playing in his trio versus the Experiment, Double Booked and one of his main influences, Herbie Hancock.

Westword: Do you approach your trio and the Experiment with different mindsets? Robert Glasper: I don't think about it all. It's just that the tools are different. With the Experiment my friend Casey Benjamin, who does the vocoder and saxophone, I automatically have a different role than I do in the trio. In the trio, I play all the melodies and I'm the driving force to kind of lead the piano trio. In the Experiment, Casey is more out front. So I get to do other things in the background that I wouldn't normally get to do in my trio. In the Experiment, I'm playing Rhodes. A lot of the repertoire is just different in general. It's not like we're playing the same exact tune in the Experiment and the trio and I have to approach them different to make them sound different. It's literally just two different things and I have two different roles so it makes it easier. I don't think about anything when I'm playing. WW: How did you first come up with the Experiment concept?

RG: I guess because I've always done piano trio and I wanted to move on to something other than a trio. I think a piano player ends up doing that at some point in their career. They've been playing acoustic jazz a long time and it's like, "Hey, I want to Head Hunters." Chick did it with his electric band. You just kind of morph and kind of want to do something different, but not let go of your piano trio stuff. I'll always love that. But I just wanted to do something a little bit different. So I think that's made me want to think of this band.

WW: Had you been playing with hip-hop cats before you started the Experiment?

RG: Yeah, I was playing with hip-hop cats before the Experiment. I was playing in the Experiment before I met Mos Def, and everybody else I played with before the Experiment. I've been in New York since '97. I actually started the Experiment in 2003 but it had different people in it. This official Experiment has been around for about three years.

WW: On Double Booked you've got the first half doing trio stuff and the second half being the Experiment stuff. I thought that was really cool to put it all on one disc rather than two separate discs.

RG: I wanted to do something different because everybody's doing the same thing. They do piano trio albums and then they come up with an album that's electric and it's the same thing. I wanted to put out an album that represents who I am now at the moment. And I really have been double booked for most of my life. The same week I play with my trio I'll play with Mos Def and I'll play with Maxwell. So that's my life as it is now so I try to represent that on the CD.

WW: The voicemails from Terence Blanchard and ?ueslove that are the album, was that on the same night?

RG: Yeah, same night. I've literally done that before. I've played my Experiment band at the Blue Note, a late night thing, and then earlier that night I was at the Vanguard with my trio. So I've actually done that before so that's a representation of people I deal with in my everyday dealings and what could happen. It also ties the CD together. Other than that, it could be kind of random having all that on there. I tried to make it as much as a story line without being a story, but some sort of outline to make it make sense. Jazz musicians, we're too stuck up to do funny shit on CDs or like R&B and rap to have all kinds of things to make the album interesting. I like that kind of shit. I like little snippets of songs. If you listen to my albums, there will be little snippets of songs, like thirty seconds, because that's some hip-hop shit. That's some shit Pete Rock would do. It just makes the album interesting. Jazz doesn't have enough interesting stuff like that on their records. So I figured that was something different too. So I like to bring all those elements to what I do.

WW: The voicemail that ?uestlove on the record, I though it was funny who he was describing the Experiment's music past-calculus, trigonometry and all of that. It was funny. RG: That was hilarious. But that's now. That's hip. That's cool, ya know, it's now. It's almost like jazz parades around like it's a fossil in a museum. When the average person thinks of jazz, they think of history. The average person doesn't think of now. That's the only music like that. If the average person thinks of rock, they think now. R&B, they think now. Anything else -- gospel -- they think now. Jazz is the only music where when you hear the word "jazz" you automatically go black and white. You go to the past. That's why I try to do as much futuristic stuff, or not even futuristic, just straight up today. That's relevant to today's times and my generation. That's the only thing that's going to keep the music alive or it's going to die with the people who created it.

WW: How do you describe about what the Experiment does do people who haven't heard you guys before?

RG: I kind of think it's like Robert Glasper's version of Head Hunters with J Dilla influence -- with a hip-hop influence. That's kind of the easiest way to put it to people so people can kind of know what to expect. We're influenced by that and alternative rock. So I guess my version of Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters but with relative music of today influences.

WW: Is Head Hunters one of your favorite records?

RG: Yeah, definitely. But as far as records go, Sunlight is probably my favorite electric Herbie record.

WW: It always seems like you always do one Herbie cut on your records too.

RG: Exactly. You know what? It's never planned that way. It always ends up like the day before, except on In My Element when I knew I was going to the Herbie Hancock "Maiden Voyage" mix-up. But as far as Canvas goes, I did "Riot," and that didn't come up until the day before. I was at a gig the day before and somehow we messed around with that at sound check, and I was like, "Oh, this is a cool tune. Let's record it." I don't why, it just always happens. I might keep it going.

WW: I really dug "Maiden Voyage" mixed with Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place." That was really cool. It's amazing how well it worked together.

RG: It's just a vibe. Both of the melodies hold on to notes for a long time. They have very sustaining melody lines, like one note can last for a few measures. It lends itself to a bunch of chords under it.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon