No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Robert Glasper’ Category

It’s All In the Details: Comments on Specific Parts of Some Rap Songs

leave a comment

Man, it’s 2009 and between months and months of hype and then the imminent album leak, nothing’s interesting and it’s all boring before the first album cut even finishes. Who has time for entire songs? And who has time for entire songs reviews? Here’s reviews of parts of songs, mostly good parts. Maybe a recurring feature here, we’ll see…

-RZA’s “We soldiers…” coda on “Black Mozart”
off Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

RZA’s high-pitched but gutteral wail of a chant that ends “Black Mozart” brings a flood of palpable pain into the song and the album, something it kinda lacks overall. It’s like RZA found an old blunt of ODB’s behind a monitor or something, smoked it, and the saliva ghost of ‘Dirty–his exuberance, his pain and confusion, his deep pontificating on the er, “struggle”–possessed RZA and he ran into the booth and cried this out. Because rap’s so sissified now (and it just is, sorry, it is) it’s easy to repaint all those St. Ideas and Timbs, gritty-beat makers as ineffable hard-asses but in all that music is obviously a lot of pain, and sometimes they even let it seap into the music explicitly; RZA bring some of that back on “Black Mozart”.

-Beanie Sigel’s biblical syntax on “Run to the Roc”
off The Broad Street Bully

Beans adopting a sort of absurd but strangely affecting mess of Biblical talk (lots of “thy” and words like “wrath”) shows you how seriously Jay Z’s dropping of “The Roc” is for those involved. “Street code” is doctrine for better and worse, and when you violate that, it’s over for you. But it also hurts because there’s more at-stake than just a bunch of feelings (and now empty wallets) but like an entire belief system. For Beans and company, the dismissal is tragic and mythic and all that, an ultimate violation and sign of disrespect. Biblical. Shakespearan. All that smart-person stuff applied to things to legitimize them. Notice how this is still threat-rap and tough-talk, he doesn’t explain why because he doesn’t have to explain it. It just is. The shit’s doctrine.

-Jay-Z’s revelation that his teacher was a dick on “So Ambitious”
off Blueprint 3

“I felt so inspired by what my teacher said/Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer-head/Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids/’specially when all I did was speak in class…”. If there’s an actual theme or like, thesis to BP3, it’s Jay Z actually feeling grown-up, no longer chasing respectability or plain old comfort, just being a fully-functional adult with a wife and responsibilities and shit. With this comes, it seems a deeper realization of his environment, one he once took for granted, also bubbles to the surface. And so, Jay’s really thinking about how having some jerk-off teacher tell you that you’re doomed isn’t normal or really acceptable. Obvious to a lot of us, but maybe not so if it’s how every fucking idealist-turned-nihilist “educator” treated you your whole fucking school career. The line clearly stung, he’s rapping about it years later, only now he’s sort of got it–rap as psychoanalysis.

-The title of Robert Glasper’s “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)”
off Double Booked

A good jazz song with a particularly affecting or smart title can somehow make it even better: “Just Friends”, “Idle Moments”, “Mandrake”, “Fables of Faubus”. That said, this has led to a lot of musicians trying really hard to be clever or insightful (a ton of puns, pseudo-poetry, etc) but “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)” is like, haiku-perfect. There’s nothing explicitly “country” about the song, no twang or grafting of folk/country melodies here, but there is a certain ease and comfort, a rolling along feeling that indeed, invokes the cliches of a somewhat derisive adjective like “country” but turns them into the strengths big-city fucks are too cool for. A jazz tune for provincials. Cooly confident, but not stupidly prideful either. Robert Glasper’s from Texas.

further reading/viewing:
-Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of OBD by Jamie Lowe
-Harvey Keitel’s wail in Bad Lieutenant
-”The Documentary” by a bunch of the XXL Staff
-Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz by Stanley Crouch

Written by Brandon

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:53 pm

leave a comment

Robert Glasper – In My Element.

I first heard about pianist Robert Glasper’s recent album ‘In My Element’ through (I’ll admit it), an NPR story. The brief samples of his music in the story immediately grabbed me. I got scared. I was enjoying contemporary jazz! I’m into bop and that’s really about it, I’m a dick that way. I was temporarily able to feel cool again when it was revealed that Glasper had worked with Dilla and indeed, one of the tracks on ‘In My Element’ was titled ‘J Dillalude’. What was interesting about the NPR story and Glasper’s music, were the consistent references to the “hip-hop” elements of the album, which was funny because what grabbed me about the music was how it reminded me of older jazz without sounding conservative. I’m scared of fusion, particularly in jazz because I find it the kind of thing that the simple-minded perceive as innovative but is generally just pastiche or plain awful. The jazz rap combination is incredibly problematic, Ornette Coleman’s ‘Tone Dialing’ or Miles Davis’ ‘Doo-Bop’ immediately come to mind- and even the Roots remind me of a jam band.

When I bought ‘In My Element’ I kept looking for these “hip-hop” elements, dreading the point where the album had some wack beat or rapper but it never came. It never came because the rap influences on ‘In My Element’ are so wonderfully synthesized and internalized, all within the construct of an acoustic trio, Glasper on piano, Vicente Archer on bass, and Damion Reid. Sometimes, Glasper’s piano has the pleasant, easy-going (but not easy listening!) sound of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown music or even, and I don’t mean this as some kind of snarky critique- music for the computer game ‘The Sims’. Glasper plays pleasant (but not smooth!) piano that really moves, changing-up, with a constantly altering Monk-ish quality minus Monk’s percussive use of the piano. There’s nothing abrasive about Glasper’s sound but it is not without chaos, as Glasper never keeps it simple or repetitive. This is complemented by Reid’s drumming which, in my fairly limited jazz knowledge makes me think of Tony Williams’ drumming on Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch’, a sort of fast, stuttering sound that barely even sounds like drumming. The drumming goes from a consistency to sudden but precise time-signature changing drum strikes, that remind me (although I know it’s the other way around) of the drill n’ bass sounds found on certain Aphex Twin or Squarepusher songs. At other times, Reid drums lightly and it sounds like the sound you get if you have a crappy apartment and your heat shuts off, that random, almost atonal clicking and clacking. We get this sort of chaotic, weird drumming, underneath Glasper’s pleasant but commanding piano and this drumming, at times, goes crazy but also keeps a consistent, pounding beat that indeed, recalls a rap beat without being explicit about it.

The most explicit connection to rap are the interludes at the end of almost every track. The actual song comes to an end and then fading in is a brief workout of what the next track will sound like. It is the most explicit “hip-hop” element of the album but it is also the most problematic; the only problematic aspect of the album. While the first interlude is a legitimate delight, exciting and unexpected, particularly on a jazz album, they quickly become tedious and slow down the flow of a consistent but rather long album. What begins as Glasper’s bucking of formula, incorporating a true hip-hop element to his jazz without it being electronic, sample-based, or a rapper, becomes programmatic because it occurs on nearly every track.

Another surprising hip-hop influence that is not overstated is ‘J Dillalude’, a track that begins with a recorded phone message from Q-Tip suggesting that Glasper do some “Dilla joints, trio style”. We’re then given a series of live recordings of presumably, Dilla tracks but I’m embarrassed to admit, that even as a big Dilla fan, I couldn’t recognize what Dilla tracks these are supposed to be. These phone message snippets and voice recordings also appear on ‘Silly Rabbit’ which contains the recording of a young girl (presumably a relative) humming one of Glasper’s tracks which we then hear, seemingly chopped-up and yes, sampled to hum along to Glasper’s music. The final track, ‘Tribute’ contains a truly moving recording of Glasper’s mother’s eulogy. This use of recorded phone messages and speeches is also something of a hip-hop album staple and Glasper uses it incredibly well. Unlike the rather strict rules and conventions of jazz, rap in its immediacy, is willing to throw in any sound or sample to convey the proper emotion. Glasper is clearly attracted to this “by any means necessary” perspective on music rules.

There’s an odd moment on the album’s second track, ‘Of Dreams to Come’, where, towards the end of the track, we get a bass solo but the bass is so closely mic-ed, that we hear, even more clearly than usual, the strings vibrating and the fingers playing, giving it an odd, percussive, noisy quality. It is the little details like this, the incorporation of recordings and the odd production techniques that make it the most similar in spirit to a rap album. Production reigns in rap music, small, sonic details are what many rap fans live for, particularly in the age of ultra-clean digital recording. So much music after the 70s, particularly in the genres of jazz and rock music, is horribly ignorant towards the importance of production, grasping towards the cleanest and most stream-lined sound available, not realizing that this is not always and more often than not, the best sound or tone.

‘In My Element’ without intending to be or even interested in being such, is a wonderful response to Wynton Marsalis’ curmudgeonly ‘From the Plantation to the Penitentiary’. Marsalis is well-known as a rap music hater of the uninformed sort, too good for the music he spends a lot of time dismissing, and on his new album, he takes on rap explicitly on the downright embarrassing ‘Where Y’all At?’. Marsalis is quoted on the cover of this month’s ‘Jazz Times’, bragging “I was speaking out about [rap] long before Bill Cosby” as if being ahead of Bill fucking Cosby is something to be proud of. I would love to see someone like Glasper sincerely debate Marsalis but judging from Glasper’s music and composed persona in that NPR interview, he’s far too polite and reasonable to waste his time.

Written by Brandon

April 18th, 2007 at 8:11 am

Posted in J-Dilla, Robert Glasper