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Robert Glasper wrapped up Blue Note residency with R+R=NOW (review)

R+R=NOW Blue Note
R+R=NHOW at Blue Note Jazz Club (photo via Dennis Manuel, via Robert Glasper Instagram)

On Sunday (10/28), Robert Glasper wrapped up a 24-night, 48-show residency at NYC’s Blue Note Jazz Club. It began with a series of trio shows with Derrick Hodge and Chris Dave (surprise appearances from Anderson .Paak and Lupe Fiasco included); then Houston Nights featuring Kendrick Scott, Michael Moreno, Burniss Travis & Walter Smith; then a run with Yasiin Bey fka Mos Def (surprise appearances from Mos Def’s Black Star partner Talib Kweli and Anderson .Paak included); then a run of trio shows with Christian McBride and Nicholas Payton; then a run of Miles Davis tributes with Bilal; then a run of Mulgrew Miller tributes with Derrick Hodge and Rodney Green; and finally Glasper wrapped up the residency with a run of shows from his latest project, the hip hop/jazz supergroup R+R=NOW, aka Glasper, Terrace Martin, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin, and Justin Tyson.

I caught the first of the R+R=NOW shows (10/25 at 8 PM), and it was a lively, captivating night of music that I would recommend to any music fan, even those who might not normally spend a night at a jazz club. Glasper, whose Robert Glasper Experiment has been helping to merge the worlds of hip hop and jazz for years, sat at his keyboards on the right side of the stage, and as it was his residency, he did most of the talking for the night (his stage banter is nearly as entertaining as R+R=NOW’s music). Across the stage from him, on keys, vocoder, and sax, was Terrace Martin, an established hip hop producer who in recent years has been helping Kendrick Lamar shape his sound, and who has also been on a roll with releasing jazz/hip hop crossover albums lately, both with his group The Pollyseeds and under his own name. At the front of the stage stood charismatic trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who — shortly before turning his attention to R+R=NOW — released a must-hear trilogy of 2017 albums (Ruler Rebel, Diaspora, and The Emancipation Procrastination), which see him blending his breathtaking trumpet/flugelhorn work with countless other styles of music and sounds, including trip-hop rhythms, psychedelic sound effects, ambient electronics, and more. At the back of the stage was Taylor McFerrin (who’s also a solo artist Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label) on, as Glasper put it, “sounds” (he beat boxed and had a laptop/electronics set up). And holding things down was the rhythm section of frequent Glasper collaborator (and prolific bandleader in his own right) Derrick Hodge on bass and drummer Justin Tyson (who also plays with Esperanza Spalding).

The supergroup opened with a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” (and Glasper mentioned that Terrace Martin is producing Herbie’s next album). Things admittedly started out a little shaky, but it only took a few minutes for R+R=NOW to really lock in, and once that happened, they remained on fire for the rest of the night. They went on to play music by the individual members (including a medley of one member’s work with another’s), and selections from their recently-released debut album Collagically Speaking, including the lengthy “Resting Warrior” which was a major highlight of the show. Another highlight was a stretched-out rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly standout “How Much A Dollar Cost,” which Martin co-wrote and played sax and keys on. (Glasper also played on TPAB, but not that song, though he has played that song live with the Robert Glasper Experiment.) Their wordless version of the song was often as gripping as the version we all know, especially with Christian Scott really leaning into its melodic hook. Even when they weren’t playing Kendrick Lamar songs, you could really hear how much of an impact Terrace Martin has had on Kendrick’s sound over the years. Martin’s style — especially when it comes to his vocoder work — is highly distinct, and that came through as much at the Blue Note as it does when a Kendrick song comes on the radio. And while “How Much A Dollar Cost” gets its piano from Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song,” that wasn’t the only time you could hear that band’s influence on the R+R=NOW set, including during one of Derrick Hodge’s bass solos which sounded like it wouldn’t have been out of place on In Rainbows. (Both Glasper and Christian Scott have covered Radiohead/Thom Yorke in the past, Scott has jammed with Thom Yorke, and of course it’s not news that jazz musicians like Radiohead.)

The opening show of the R+R=NOW run also had one surprise guest in store. Taylor McFerrin’s father, a cappella legend and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” hitmaker Bobby McFerrin, came on stage for entirely improvised scatting with his son beat-boxing and Glasper adding in piano here and there. You can watch a video of Bobby’s appearance below.

If you haven’t heard the R+R=NOW album, we recommend listening to that. A stream is embedded below. I’ve also been listening nonstop to that aforementioned Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah trilogy since seeing the R+R=NOW show, and if you haven’t heard them, I highly recommend it, so I embedded those streams below too.

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