Review: Robert Glasper makes it time for jazz at the Dakota
By Joely Kelzer | Carbon Sound
As a music fan, you hit a certain point in your life where you know it’s time for jazz. You start to develop a palate for say, a seated show in a jazz club downtown … Friday evening was my first experience at Minneapolis’ jazz club, The Dakota, to see Robert Glasper.
It was his first of six performances that weekend at Dakota. I was led to my seat at a dark wood bar facing the stage, awaiting the start of the sold-out show by candlelight with other twenty-somethings who have decided that now is time for jazz.
As soon as I settled into my seat, the show started, perfect timing. The show opened with a DJ, who welcomed us into the atmosphere with a perfect choice, Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” I was already having a great time.
Everyone around me was having a glass of wine or a nice cocktail, dressed up, smiling. It was everyone’s ‘night on the town.’ The DJ only played for a couple of minutes before Robert Glasper and his band took the stage. Even before the show started, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m having such a great time, I’m at the jazz club.”
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It seemed Robert Glasper had the same idea as me, when he first got on stage, he spoke to the crowd, “This is a nice place, this is dope. I f---- like this place. I don’t play many jazz clubs anymore.” The crowd was already cheering and excited. I was excited to see that he had a full band with him; a drummer, a bassist and his DJ to accompany his keyboard.
Robert started off the show with swirling improvisations on the keyboard, it was bouncy and colorful and brightened up the dimly lit room. He continued to weave through intricate playing on the keyboard, providing vocals and joking around with his band.
Glasper’s music has been described as a mix between jazz, hip-hop, R&B and neo-soul. This came through in his performance, with the classic jazz-influenced instrumentation, R&B vocals and the use of a DJ as a part of his set, this was a unique jazz experience.
The band’s sense of humor is a hallmark of their live performances, the band riffed in between songs throughout the entire show. The band would say things like, “Everybody give it up for Robert Glasper, piano student, it’s his first night with the band, give him some love,” and the crowd would laugh with them.
Though, it was obviously not his first night with the band, or with the piano. Glasper played chaotically with precision and ease, it was obvious he was a pro. Glasper continued to mix up his style with each song, showing his control with slower, softer melodies and his experimentation with the speed he played.
It wasn’t just a backup band either, Glasper’s band each individually shined as well. Glasper’s drummer stole the show a few times, one of which was when he played a jungle drum break halfway through the show. Although I liked the seated vibe of the show, I really wanted to stand up and dance when that happened.
My other favorite moment of the show was when they covered “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears, one of my favorites. It was a calm, spacey cover. The keyboard took the lead role in driving the song while the singer’s elongated vocals brought an R&B vibe to this cover. This song got a lot of attention from the crowd, many people even started singing along.
In between having fun on stage, Glasper took his time with the audience to send out some uplifting words. He talked to the audience about jazz standards, “Now we’re gonna do a song by one of my favorite rappers.”
He said that jazz standards become jazz standards when a jazz band plays them, he finished this point with, “So play your friends’ music.”
Glasper surely does have some friends' music to play. The prolific musician has played with many of the big names of R&B, funk, hip-hop and jazz– Erykah Badu, Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Mary J Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Jill Scott to name a few.
He even played the March On Washington in 2020 alongside George Clinton. Along with the respect of all of these legendary musicians, he has won four Grammys, to talk more about his impressive keyboard playing would be redundant.
What truly brought the night together was his stories and sense of humor. He interacted with the crowd all throughout the night, joking around with his band, sharing stories or simply just telling the audience what he was thinking about.
The relaxed, conversational vibe of Robert Glasper and his band, tied together with the candlelit, suave atmosphere of The Dakota made it a great night. He received a standing ovation after his encore. You could hear snippets of the crowd raving to each other as we cleared the bar for the next show later that night and passed by the excited incoming crowd that was about to experience Glasper’s next set of the night.