The Robert Glasper Experiment has established such a track record in the studio that it can be easy to take for granted the band’s core identity as a live act. It was with a series of overheated gigs in New York, at joints like the 55 Bar, that the Experiment — led by the resourceful, indefatigable keyboardist Robert Glasper — originally found its voice and purpose. And its albums are mostly recorded in real time, live in the studio.
So the March 16 arrival of Robert Glasper Experiment – Live, on DVD and in digital formats, feels totally intuitive, maybe even a bit overdue. A collection of performances filmed on three continents over the last five years or so, it captures the band stretching out and revving up, with a series of guest vocalists. Among them is Lalah Hathaway, who covers Sade’s “Cherish the Day” just as she did on Black Radio, the Experiment’s 2012 debut.
This performance took place in Harlem, as part of the annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Opening with a round of arpeggios by bassist Derrick Hodge, it’s supercharged almost before it begins: listen to the frenzied crowd response as Hathaway walks out onto the Marcus Garvey Park Bandshell, taking her time before stepping to the microphone. Her vocal delivery is regal and transporting, both in the delivery of the song and during an improvised section that starts six minutes in, following Casey Benjamin’s urgent, incisive alto saxophone solo.
Robert Glasper Experiment – Live was compiled by J. Kevin Swain, a veteran producer and director known for his work with Tupac, Mary J. Blige and others. The footage from Harlem sits alongside material from The Troubadour in Los Angeles and the JZ Music Festival in Shanghai. Along with Hathaway, the guests include Bilal, B. Slade, Algebra Blessett and even Wayne Brady, in his capacity as a rapper. And four tracks were filmed at the 2014 North Sea Jazz Festival, when the Experiment joined forces with the Metropole Orchestra.
Each member of the Robert Glasper Experiment stays plenty busy on his own: maybe you caught Glasper on a recent Tiny Desk Concert with Common and Karriem Riggins, his partners in a new collective called August Greene. This outside activity can be seen as a complement to the Experiment, rather than a competitor. Still, the material on the new DVD is a reminder of the specific combustion properties of this band, digging into a groove from one moment to the next.
Robert Glasper Experiment – Live will be released by Eagle Rock Entertainment on March 16. Preorder here.