REVIEW: Robert Glasper at the Barbican (2017 EFG LJF)

Robert Glasper at the Barbican


Robert Glasper
(Barbican, 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Lauren Bush)

With a few minutes to spare before the concert began, the Barbican was buzzing with excitement. The stage was absolutely bursting with instruments. Two drum kits, double bass, electric bass, electric guitars, a harmonica set-up, a grand piano, a Rhodes and even a DJ booth, where DJ Sunshine (Jahi Lake) was already scratching away on Love for Sale.

Robert Glasper comes out and casually teases the audience and appeals to us to have a good time. He chats about the focus of the evening being his newest album Covered – a compilation of pop tunes from different well-known artists. He nonchalantly points to his shirt – a caricature of Stevie Wonder – and the crowd goes wild.

The DJ has been on stage from before the lights dimmed, but Glasper is now joined by bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid (leaving us all wondering who would be playing the other instruments). Prince’s song Sign of the Times starts off the evening with a captivating drum solo. The role of the DJ starts to become clear as he drops in familiar hip-hop lines from the 80’s and 90’s such as Erykah Badu’s version of Afro Blue.

The next song starts off featuring just bass. It’s clear that Glasper really enjoys the collaborative part of music. His laid back nature allows others to shine on stage. He’s much more of a puppet-master than a leader in the sense that he has arranged all of this music to be what he wants, but when it comes time to play it, he lets the musicians do their jobs.

Only 30 minutes in and Glasper announces that there will be a set change. The lights stay dark as drum kit number one is moved and the new musicians find their places on stage. His original trio’s got the rest of the night off as Blue Note recording artist Derrick Hodge> takes over on electric bass and George Spanky McCurdy takes the seat at the drums. Joining them and the DJ are a trio of singers, Brendan Reilly, LaDonna Harley-Peters and Vula; guitarist Mike Severson and keyboardist Travis Sayles and harmonica player Grégoire Maret Glasper’s got a whole team of collaborators now, as the trio of singers take turns crooning their arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed.

Vula takes centre stage for a brilliant tune and then we are surprised by yet another addition to this already stellar line-up. American singer-songwriter Bilal, full of eccentric, soulful touches, sings another Stevie song before sharing one of his originals, Levels, that Glasper has recorded on his Covered album. The personal connection – sharing someone’s original music, together, for a new audience is a special experience.

The band suddenly leave the stage and a spotlight focuses in on bassist Derrick Hodge as he treats to a solo performance of My Cherie Amour. Reminiscent of Victor Wooten’s electric bass solos, it is such an interesting and unique opportunity to hear such skill and creativity.

One more surprise for the evening, as Glasper introduces his final guest, the rising star, Laura Mvula, donning a super-trendy felt hat. She sits down at the Rhodes, kitty corner to Glasper and they share an intimate moment, blending seamlessly with the rest of the band. The final song, Toast, an original of Mvula’s proves to be the most memorable song of the night.

Glasper contributes beautiful piano lines amongst all the other details, some really soulful solos and carries himself in such a calm and casual manner that it’s hard to imagine how this collection of artists couldn’t possibly enjoy their job any more. Their fearless frontrunner gives them the freedom to explore, create and mould this music into something that any audience member would fall in love with.

PERSONNEL

Robert Glasper
Bilal
Mike Severson - guitar
Travis Sayles  - keys
Spanky McCurdy - drums
Derrick Hodge - bass
Jahi Lake DJ
Vicente Archer
Damion Reid
LaDonna Harley-Peters
Vula Malinga
Brenda Reilly
Laura Mvula
Grégoire Maret

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