Robert Glasper Trio – Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne (05/06/16)

There is no better place to see a small jazz combo than in a dimly lit club. It’s a purpose built match that conjures up all the smoky allure of history’s great players and the stages that served them. There was an almost palpable sense of excitement being passed between those in attendance at Bennetts Lane tonight, each knowing that they were lucky to have gained entry.

Robert Glasper is a big name in contemporary jazz and the chance to see the American pianist, along with drummer Damion Reid and upright bassist Vicente Archer, up close and acoustic was an incredible experience.

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Introducing the set with a song that was apparently held off the Covered album for ‘legal reasons’, a take on Prince’s Sign O’ the Times, it was obvious how attuned to one other the players were. Joking with the crowd from the get go, the trio seemed completely relaxed yet sharply attentive to the ins and outs of the music.

It often felt like the three instruments were so deep in the pocket that they were all emphasising different rhythmic patterns and yet somehow staying locked in time as a whole. Glasper glided up and down melodic lines in a free flowing fashion whilst the drums played a fast counter pattern and the bass loped steadily in the middle.

There was an almost classical sense to a lot of Glasper’s playing, but filtered through the blues and with a crazy, fluctuating sense of timing. His right hand is capable of incredible runs of notes and chords. He played solo in the introduction of one song, seeming to tease the audience by not settling on one groove, instead changing feel in a dizzying assortment of deftly dispatched notes. Eventually, seemingly triggered by some signal invisible to everyone else, Reid and Archer simultaneously entered the song to much applause.

There was even a sort of musical game at one point of the set where they each took turns leading and trying to thrown each other off through unpredictable timing and choices. Glasper’s section even quoted Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time, which elicited smiles from the band with Archer informing him the jam session wasn’t until later on.

As virtuosic as he is, there was a certain humour to Glasper’s playing. Every time he would play a straightforward melody he would smile to the audience like ‘gotcha’ and complicate the part, without being clever for the sake of it.

The set list mixed covers, such as an unexpected take on D’Angelo’s Tutu (Till Its Done), with originals. Material from the newly released Miles Davis tribute Everything’s Beautiful featured prominently, with the voice of Don Cheadle’s Davis from the Miles Ahead movie played at certain points in the music.

 Published in Beat Magazine #1528

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