Robert Glasper has an idea about what jazz should sound like today.
What initially began as an experimental meeting of musical minds at SXSW has now turned into R+R=NOW — a superband with a mission to reflect our present time. The group will release its debut, Collagically Speaking, tomorrow on Blue Note Records.
On this edition of The Checkout, we speak with three of its core members — Glasper on keys, electronics artist Taylor McFerrin, and drummer Justin Tyson — at the Soleil St. Lucia Summer Festival. Rounding out the megaband are Terrace Martin on vocoder, synths, and saxophone; Christian Scott Atunde Ajuah on trumpet (with various effects); and Derrick Hodge on electric bass.
Above all else, the ensemble prioritizes a soulful vibe and mood. And this futuristic band is even less genre-specific than the Robert Glasper Experiment and guest-laden Black Radio project.
Many songs on Collagically Speaking evolve with no particular urgency, loosely developing into hypnotic head-nodding soundscapes, and cresting with a psychedelic ending. “Change of Tone,” the sultry Hodge piece that opens the album, is elevated by Martin’s spectacular vocoder delivery, floating above the sensuous groove. The members of R+R=NOW say that many of the songs featured were recorded in one take. “Resting Warrior” is one of the only tunes where the band is fully unleashed — a song for the musicians, as Justin Tyson described it to me.
There’s also a collage of spoken-word artists with cameos, like MCs Stalley and yasiin bey (f.k.a. Mos Def) and, as featured on this program, actress Amanda Seales (of Insecure) voicing an impassioned message to women on “Her Now,” with a 12-layer track sound design by McFerrin and Hodge.
There’s an obvious brotherhood shared among R+R=NOW. The initials in the band’s name stand for Reflect and Respond — two actions, when properly executed, that Glasper says can neither be irrelevant nor ignored. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” Nina Simone defiantly declares in the documentary film What Happened Miss, Simone? This resonated with Glasper, who worked on his own Simone tribute, Nina Revisited, with Lauren Hill that same year.
The sound of R+R=NOW will probably change radically in the coming months; during our conversation, members of the group described it as a work in progress.
They’ll soon embark on an ambitious North American and European summer tour, hitting the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on June 22, the North Sea Jazz Festival on July 13 and the Newport Jazz Festival on Aug. 3.
Also in this podcast, Glasper opens up about how he found his sound early in his career — telling the story of how Terrace Martin introduced him to rapper Kendrick Lamar, which resulted in the pianist being prominently featured on To Pimp A Butterfly. Glasper outlines his performance on Thundercat’s composition “Complexion” on that album, and discusses how he repaid Martin’s favor by introducing Terrace Martin to an idol, Herbie Hancock.
Collagically Speaking will be available on Friday on Blue Note; preorder here.