Blue Note was packed on this particular eve of “Robtoberfest,” Grammy-award-winning Robert Glasper’s month-long residency with the historic jazz club. Jazz aficionados who traveled near and far and waited in hour-long lines eagerly awaited his return to the piano bench. Glasper’s laid-back demeanor set the excited crowd at ease as he and his band wove through tables and got comfortable on stage. Glasper took a moment to scan his setlist, pausing before admitting that, “I never know what I’m going to play until I get the hell here…it’s not me being unprepared, it’s me being in tune.”
Glasper, acclaimed pianist, composer, and producer, embarked on the fifth season of his residency at Blue Note after three decades of modernizing jazz and ambitiously fusing R&B with jazz influences. He’s collaborated with artists in the jazz, hip hop and R&B world, including Common, Bilal, Kendrick Lamar, and Mac Miller. Bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Damian Reed joined him onstage, forming the “Original Trio.” The set began with a tender piano solo interpretation of James Williams’ “Alter Ego,” where Glasper’s effortless phrasing had a deeply expressive effect, sending chills throughout the crowd. Bassist Archer joined in and showcased his agility in a vivacious solo, excavating new rhythms within the piece.
The trio brilliantly captured the joys and tribulations of adolescence, sweeping romance and smothering heartbreak, and the highs and lows of life in a way that transported every audience member through their own life experiences, connecting with each piece personally and feeling moved once each tune came to a close. The setlist included a toe-tapping Thelonious Monk number that showcased Glasper’s quick fingers and Reed’s capabilities as a seasoned drummer. The outro of the song was particularly remarkable, as Glasper wove in a “Happy Birthday” theme with a wistful mood, inspired by an audience member’s birthday shoutout earlier in the night. “Thelonius Monk was the first hip hop artist,” Glasper declared, exemplifying his tendency to expand genre, experiment, and remix the classics into novelties.
Each song was deeply evocative and entrancing and was performed without theatricality, letting the music speak for itself. Glasper seemed at ease on the piano, his Jordans swinging by the pedals as he plunked out arpeggios gracefully. Pieces from the discographies of Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Kenny Kirkland Dienda bridged generations of pianists seamlessly, which created a universal music experience. Once the evening came to a close, Robert and his crew glided back into the crowd, and business as usual stalled for a brief moment as Robert’s blissful melodies lingered in my mind.
If you want to experience the magic of Robtober, Robert Glasper has a residency at Blue Note all month with featured guests like Yebba, Bilal, and many more.