The Okayplayer Interview: Robert Glasper On Miles Davis + Radical Jazz
In a world where jazz and hip-hop now lay perfectly intertwined, each feeding the other, Robert Glasper sits squarely at the crossroads. His accolades and his repertoire are virtually unmatched, embodying the sentiments of these converging worlds respectively, working side-by-side with everyone from J Dilla to Herbie Hancock to Kendrick Lamar to infinite and beyond. But the sheer array of collaborators and subsequent projects begs all sorts of questions, all revolving around what constitutes a jazz musician in 2016, with electronics and drum programs equally represented in both schools of distinctly American music.
Later this week, he’ll release a project that salutes both of these musical lives, recalibrating the work of Miles Davis to the timbre of boom bap, bringing his compositions in line with more recent developments in low end theory. Bringing these worlds ever closer and defying the conventions of tradition is, as Glasper proclaimed in our chat, precisely what a student of jazz, regardless of era, supposed to do. Tradition is an odd thing when it comes to the Birds, Davises and Coltranes of our time. Already grappling with the implicit double standard of doing-as-the-greats-did and forging their own path in the same breath or flick of the wrist, Glasper speaks of tradition as an unnecessary evil, stressed only by inadequate players that fell back-asswards into academia, crippling generations of musicians by consistently burying the living to praise the dead; an antiquated sentiment that Miles, the very source of Everything’s Beautiful, would doubtless have gagged at.
For the tributary album, Glasper gathered only those musical minds in his rolodex that understood the Miles Complex, the obsession and dedication with/to moving forward, with almost paranoid haste. As if stagnancy were death itself. But if there’s any jazz tradition worth upholding, it’s this very compulsion to gracefully (or even not so gracefully) forge ahead into unpracticed sonic space. Each and every member of the Everything’s Beautiful roster–comprising Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, KING, 9th Wonder, Hiatus Kaiyote, among a slew of others–is as haunted by The Complex as Glasper himself, whose studio demeanor mirrors that of Davis; loose and trusting of his team, full of hand-picked masters at their respective instruments. The success of this strategy is readily apparent, creating an album that’s equal measures salute and reconstruction, invoking the spirit of Davis by chopping his rarely heard vocals–coughs, throat-clearings, whistles and mumbles–as if the giant himself were overseeing the sessions.
Though he’s clearly frustrated with the institutionalization of jazz, Glasper sees hope in the current generation of musicians, crediting Kendrick Lamar and the whole To Pimp A Butterfly team for providing him and the entangled cultures of jazz and hip-hop with a beacon. For saying, Fuck both of those worlds and the one we live in for poisoning our water, air, dirt and creativity. For reaching deep into a ravished cultural fabric and grabbing something pure, in spite of it all.
Even with these recent triumphs, it’s clear there’s still work to be done, but rest assured the job is in the right hands. Hands that tap ivory keys and rubber pads with equal poise. Hands that remember the good mistakes. Robert Glasper’s Everything’s Beautiful arrives this Friday and can be pre-ordered via iTunes today. Read through the mind of a musical revolutionary below.