Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP (Advance Review)
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It has already become one of the most celebrated projects of 2012: Robert Glasper’s Black Radio has won over critics and fans alike as the most accessible jazz projects by the progressive jazz pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Black Radio delivered something new, with a bevy of named underground royals (and mainstream titleholders with pauper cred) like Bilal, KING, and Erykah Badu to sweeten the spoonfuls of abstract expressions playing underneath the readily digestible melodies of standards like “Afro Blue” and originals such as “Black Radio.” As easy as the original is on casual consumer ears, the remix versions of those songs on Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP are challenging. What ultimately gets recovered in these six repackaged cuts is Glasper’s own innovative creativity and much missed voice.
With the exception of an electric cover of Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” what was buried in the palatable commerciality of Black Radio was Glasper’s own signature eccentricity as a musician and a producer. Recapturing the beautiful strangeness of his earlier works was the tall order that Glasper slammed his black Amex down to reclaim. Here he does so with credit to spare. His abstract approach to Little Dragon’s “Twice” is spine-tingling in its brilliance as both cerebral exercise and joyous listening experience. With The Roots and Solange joining the fun on “?uestlove’s Twice Baked Remix,” what was once Eastern spare and wintry now bursts with new life and textures thanks to the disruptions of various live instruments like the violin and, interestingly enough on a remix, live drums, in addition to the spacey electronic hip hop elements.
A similar explosion of the modest and elegiac occurs on the remix of “Letter to Hermoine” (featuring Bilal), courtesy of insistent percussions, repetitious dark piano chords, and Black Milk’s unintended impression of Method Man. The “Robert Glasper and Jewels remix” of “Letter…” becomes the soundtrack for American Gothic: Urban Edition. What could be chaotic and self-indulgent is instead a breathtaking, repeat-worthy bit of hip hop macabre that used to be the province of Wu-Tang and early Beanie Siegel.
An atmospheric song that experienced smooth sailing on its original voyage is refreshed but less yare here in its cluttered post-modern musical expressions. Despite a galloping bassline that keeps the song moving along, Georgia Anne Muldrow’s Sassy Geemix of “The Consequences of Jealousy” featuring Me’shell Ndegeocello, just doesn’t seem to ride anywhere special. Its hall of mirrors distortions seeming to be just ‘cause, whereas the original was pretty clear in its sultry declarations. This version feels more like the threat reflected in the song’s title.
Glasper and his pal, yasiin bey (formerly Mos Def) strip down the “Pete Rock Remix” of the title track, making each of bey’s vocal gunfire “bang(s)” more startlingly powerful in the process. When yasiin stops the rabid fire rhyming to climb the soul scales and belt for his life, Glasper’s ceaselessly moving track becomes the springboard for every Black genre dive—from rap to blues to soul to jazz—to tens across the board. It’s the reimagining that is the easiest outside of the fairly by-the-book remix of “9th Wonder’s Blue Light Basement Remix” featuring Phonte, a hip hop take on the jazz standard that itself feels like a pleasant holdover from a Foreign Exchange release.
Since his untimely death (and even before), Detroit producer Jay Dilla has been ever present among the producers of this era. Glasper is no less impacted by the producer’s ubiquitous influence on this culture’s indie musicians’ and producers’ ears. With its own auto-tuned interpolation of Bobby Caldwell’s “The Light,” Glasper’s nine-minute multi-movement homage to Dilla, “Dillalude,” is a fitting close for a project that is at times as fresh and energizing as the man to whom this tribute was made. With work this left and yet this embraceable, Glasper’s well on his way to being a source of influence and inspiration of his own. Glad to have you back. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson