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The Robert Glasper Experiment

Venue: Koko, Camden, London

Date: 14th November 2016

By Andrew Kay | 17 November 2016
If anyone calls themselves the “Experiment”, it’s usually a get-out-of-jail-free card if anyone has the audacity to think the “experiment” didn’t work.  As much as I love jazz and as much as I love Robert Glasper on wax or CD, J Dilla and the rest of his backpack hip-hop ilk have a lot to answer for, as I felt tonight was a Marmite affair only in the negative. A bit like most people’s responses to Modern Art - too afraid to declare it doesn’t move or engage them, lest they get ridiculed for not "getting it".

Despite a few early technical hiccups, Robert Glasper’s larger-than-life personality kept the crowd at bay papering over the cracks in proceedings, which meant things stopped as soon as they had started ... which meant losing momentum. The first hour went well: the vocals, guitar and drums - not to mention Glasper’s deft handling of the keyboards - were all handled with concentrated aplomb. Instrumentations of certain songs played out into epic musical poems; traditional elements of jazz were mixed-in and layered-over with delicate, teasing scratching and hip-hop basslines and samples. It was all a heady affair, an intoxicating brew of old and the new. The soulful vocals accompanied many of the songs, and you felt you were being transported to another spacey dimension, recalling the diaspora of George Clinton and Parliament/ Funkadelic, as their 1970s rock chords and funky guitars would take you to another world. This, it was hoped, would make dealing with Planet Earth’s injustice and inequality that much more easier.

But something took hold of me in the second hour. I got suddenly bored and restless. The whole evening felt monotonous. I felt clammy, itchy, tired and fed up. I realized that this wasn’t where Robert Glasper should be playing. Intimate supper clubs would be better for this music, and for the audience to be seated. The second hour felt an indulgence, like a Prog-Rock band touring in a bygone era. I soon tuned out from the lush instrumentals. The concentrated effort it must have taken to re-create that live was lost on me. But it hadn’t been on record. Such a strange dichotomy?!

In any case, at two hours-plus, the whole evening became an indulgence. Jazz and hip-hop - two mutually respected bedfellows - just didn’t sleep or shag well on the music compatibility scale tonight.  Singer M'shell Ndegeocello had a little something, but by then I disengaged. It felt prosaic, like so much “plink plink” smugly-constructed J Dilla-type hip-hop, which Glasper - along with the incredibly boring Common - have affiliations with. Perhaps it’s not the genre’s fault that so many hung on Dilla, especially after he died. But his music, when closely observed, has a pattern to it, and it’s often ponderous and colourless.

I feel bad for actually writing about Robert Glasper in such a disparaging way, but tonight didn’t work for me. I’ll continue to be a fan and listen to his music, and perhaps see him live again. I just hope his set is tighter time-wise, and where’s there’s room for swirling, never-ending musical journeys, like mini-movies, there’s a cut-off point from turning a concert into a jamming session, that the members of the “Experiment” enjoy, but the fee-paying audience go Marmite over, as their patience is tested.

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