The shape of music to come?
There was a time when supergroups had a bad name, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker’s Blind Faith being one reason, but in truth assemblies of great musicians have been around for decades, especially in jazz. R+R=NOW is the latest, it consists of American artists largely from the jazz world with pianist Robert Glasper at the helm, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet and Taylor McFerrin on synths and beatbox. They are very ably assisted by Terrace Martin (Kamasi Washington, Kendrick Lamar) on synth and vocoder, Derrick Hodge on bass and Justin Tyson (Esperanza Spalding) on drums. So it’s a properly stellar line up of largely West Coast based musicians who manage to avoid the indulgences of rock supergroups and made an album that fuses jazz, hip hop and soul with electronica in such a fashion as to leave the open eared in a fully blissed out state.
The band name means reflect and respond according Glasper who was inspired by Nina Simone who saw it as an artist’s duty to reflect the times they live in, which may be the case with Collagically Speaking but you have to listen to the rappers MC Stalley and yasiin bey (Mos Def) to get any real sense of social commentary, and they are only found on a few of the tracks. The vocals elsewhere are in more of an RnB style and like most of the music quite ethereal, the snappy drums are the most definite thing about most of the 11 tunes, everything else has a hazy, detached vibe that does coalesce into tunes but equally is inclined to noodly expeditions into the musical cosmos. This is barely a jazz album at all, it’s contemporary music that comes from a band with jazz sensibilities, for a start there’s a heavy electric bass line on most of the numbers. Then there are synths and effects that pervade the background and give the music a richly patterned backdrop that enhances the structural elements. Sometimes these ephemeral sounds spread right out into the room, some kind of phase tweaking makes them seem to come from either side of you when the speakers are in front, it’s a quite a trip.
The sound has a matte polish to it that’s very now, the opener Change of Tone is an indication that Glasper and cohorts are looking to break new ground and by combining the styles of a diverse collection of talents they make some headway in doing so. It’s compressed and limited but not so as to make it sound ‘loud’, with a few exceptions it doesn’t sound very natural either, the trumpet for instance is rarely heard in its raw form. The key to the album’s success I suspect is that it was done in a short four day period which clearly provided the focus to keep the various egos involved on track, there are moments when it starts to sound like a cosmic jam but for the most part this is an engaging and intriguing insight into the shape of music to come.