Robert Glasper 

In My Element

Modern jazz artists with genre-busting pretensions have reason to envy 28-year-old pianist Glasper. He has traded fours with unctuous neosoul singer Bilal, cribbed ideas from the late hip-hop producer J Dilla, and held down rhythm section duties for Tribe Called Quest frontman Q-Tip. He's had glamour shots in respected jazz publications like DownBeat and pulpy, hippety-hoppety glossies like Vibe. Rappers attend his jazz club gigs and wait around afterward to chop it up with him. He looks good with an eyebrow piercing. And his new album In My Element — meant to highlight Glasper's ultra-rarefied drum-bass-piano trio — is hella hip-hop. In, uh, the most respectable, unself-conscious way possible.

Recorded in three sessions, In My Element includes two answering machine messages which Glasper deploys like hip-hop samples or "drops." In one, a little girl sings the melody for Glasper's "Silly Rabbit." The other features a scrofulous cameo from Q-Tip, who suggests that Glasper try interpreting some of J Dilla's beats with his trio. Ergo, the album's seventh track, "Dillalude." Though you kind of have to be a Dilla fanatic to understand what the hell's going on, it's still a really cool idea. Glasper also makes his own mashup by turning a vamp from Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" into an arrangement, and placing Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place" on top. While he's not afraid to poach ideas from the pop canon, the pianist typically chooses stuff musicheads actually listen to. And rather than string together say, a scratch from this guy and a two-bar loop from that guy and a backing track from that other guy over there, Glasper makes everything his own. "Maiden Voyage"/"Everything in Its Right Place" works because both songs comprise so many suspended chord voicings, but the average person wouldn't know that until Glasper revealed it.


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