Jazz has long had the reputation for being the unique preserve of uber-cool, beret-wearing beard-strokers smoking Gauloises in dingy basements. Heads are nodded to improvised solos and diminished 9ths are talked about in reverential tones. It’s a select club and there’s a good chance you are not invited.
Grammy winning Houstonian Robert Glasper has done his best to open up the genre with his contemporary amalgam of jazz and hip hop. He is the go-to-guy for heavyweight acts such as Maxwell, Q-Tip and Common hoping to sprinkle some of his jazz seasoning over their urban offerings.
Beanie hat on and smoking a cheroot Glasper strolls on stage and perches behind a wall of keyboards playing the role of band leader with a practiced calm. First up is Glasper’s take on Kanye’s No Church In the Wild which sets the tone for the rest of the evening with an atmospheric paired down arrangement, Derrick Hodge’s bubbling bass and a vocoder laden vocal from Casey Benjamin.
The charismatic Benjamin is tasked with most of tonight’s vocal duties subbing on the guest-laden tracks from Black Radio and its sequel which feature the likes of Anthony Hamilton, Snoop Dogg and Bilal all of whom were unlikely to pitch up on a cold Tuesday evening in Brighton. Tonight he is decked out with an impressive quiff, beard, biker jacket and vest that make him look like a black George Michael.
The disco scratch of Nile Rogers guitar is substituted for some descending scales and weird synth burbles for their cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky changing the tone to such an extent that there is a ripple of satisfaction when the crowd eventually work out what they are playing. Benjamin’s Herbie Hancock referencing vocals are interspersed with some ingenious Max Headroom stuttering audio effects.
Let it Ride picks up the pace with some with some intricate drumming from Mark Colenburg expertly conveying the songs delicate drum and bass texture. This is the start of the show dedicated to the jazz nerds who coo loudly when a particular break or key change is delivered. Glasper plays a long complicated improvisation simultaneously on two different keyboards, basically because he can.
I Stand Alone starts with a striking John Legendesque piano break that segues into an extend bass solo from Hodge which recalls motifs from Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. It’s technically brilliant but so is a research scientist in a lab extracting stem cells from bone marrow. Both hardly classify as Saturday night entertainment.
Jazz fans may want to appear cooler than thou but they can’t help stifle a cheer when Radio 2 staple Lovely Day gets an airing. Benjamin’s vocoder lends the track a light funk that offsets the heavy hip hop beat laid down by Colenburg.
Basment Jaxx/Dizzee Rascal collaborator Vula Malinga then appears on stage to give the crowd a welcome break from the vocoder. Her sublime Minnie Ripperton register works well in harmony with Benjamin and her sultry vocals include some Badu-like scatting on the cover of Floetry’s Say Yes and are good enough to make Glasper leave the stage in mock admiration.
Up next is All Matter song Glasper co-wrote with Bilal. I had the privilege of hearing the track played live at the Jazz Cafe a few years ago and Bilal’s band blew the roof off. This version doesn't have anything like the urgency of the original and suffers from Glasper’s dissonant chords. Benjamin breaks out the alto sax midway through for an extended solo and we are on another one way trip to Noodlesville.
exclaims Glasper but he is beaten by the clock after another vocoder heavy reworking of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit takes him past curfew with no time for an encore.
There was me thinking jazzers were good at keeping time.