Meet this generation’s dopest fusion band, The Robert Glasper Experiment (RGE). The multi-talented quartet’s current lineup consists of keyboardist Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge, saxophonist/vocoder Casey Benjamin (aka Stutz McGee) and drummer Mark Colenburg.
RGE’s melodic style is a stew of jazz, hip hop, soul and spoken word. The outfit’s 2012 jam session-styled LP, Black Radio, was honored this year with the “Best R&B Album” Grammy Award.
RGE barely discusses winning the accolade. The band immediately returned to the studio and concentrated on the follow up album (actually, Glasper’s fifth for Blue Note Records), Black Radio 2 (BR2). “Since we won, we purposefully made this album more R&B. It’s more of a structured kind of thing. We concentrated more on songwriting. I don’t know if it’s more special per se,” says Glasper.
BR2 features guest appearances from Brandy, Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Norah Jones, Jazmine Sullivan, Snoop Dogg, Patrick Stump, Luke James, Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, Faith Evans, Eric Roberson, Macy Gray, Emeli Sande, PJ Morton, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, John P. Kee, Michael Eric Dyson, Jean Grae and Dwele.
“The first Black Radio had six or seven covers. This time, we wanted to have more original songs. I wanted to have a few more throwback artists that I grew up listening to. It’s so hilarious that I have an ‘R&B album.’ I never would’ve imagined this five years ago,” says Glasper.
At BR2’s Atlanta listening party, an extroverted Glasper and his band mates sit at the edge of the stage, pose for a few photos and relocate to a sofa behind them. The Houston-born bandleader, 35, remembers actively tweeting his fans, artists and their fans about possible collaborations.
Kendrick Lamar, Glasper reveals, couldn’t participate because of time constraints. “The universe made this album. I like to throw out a big-assed net and just see who catches. People say ‘Yes,’ but their schedules conflict. There are a lot of great artists that said ‘Yes’ to this album and couldn’t do it,” says Glasper.
Whether recording or performing, Glasper does not rotate keyboards. “The way we approached it as far as how we played, conceptually we let [Glasper] be alone in his own thoughts. When it comes to us actually getting into the studio playing, there’s not much discussed at all,” he says.
Benjamin – wearing red-streaked, pompadour-styled dreadlocks – and Glasper were both classmates at The New School (University) in New York. He recalls Glasper being “really shy” but always introducing his peers to jazz. Sporting a black stocking cap and light brown suede jacket, Glasper references Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album quite a bit.
The self-proclaimed disciple of keyboardist Greg Phillinganes believes many current albums lack having a vibe. “All of my favorite albums are produced by one person. [Off the Wall] literally sounds like they did every song in the same room using the same instruments in one day. It’s not track by track overly produced. It feels like a jam session – very intimate,” says Glasper.
RGE has a multigenerational fanbase and mad respect of their peers. The band unanimously agrees the love of music keeps them focused. “One thing that’s undeniable is the audience is moved. When it comes down to actually performing, we still try to be very honest. It’s not forced. We’re trying to get true to the name – experiment,” says Hodge.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.
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