Robert Glasper with Bilal and Stonephace, Southbank Centre, London
Monday 16 November 2009
You get the feeling that this evening was an attempt to be ‘hip’. If this was the case it limped in the awkward way the person who did the bill might have said it, or need a new one at least.
Luckily for the audience, Stonephace’s empty and outdated sounds that left a cavernous hole in the hall was easily filled by the pianist Glasper.
Thankfully, trip-hop didn’t quite make it into the 21st century and it failed to make a comeback tonight. Stonephace’s act attempts to be atmospheric by underpinning live flutes and fender solos with hip-hop drumbeats spun by a DJ. The aural boredom lay atop a revolving display of badly produced visuals. The band members were soulless and offered nothing as a warm up act. Perhaps it was the concrete surroundings that left the crowd cold, but that’s really giving Stonephace the benefit of the doubt.
After the interval Glasper took to the stage. His presence immediately changed the mood and he addressed the crowd with a wit that broke the ice of earlier. His performance described a broad range of styles whilst staying true to his own. With thanks to the great drummer Chris Dave, Glasper managed to stitch a thread from early bebop to modern hip hop in way that would have offered an education to the younger members of the crowd. He was unforgiving at times, taking the mood out left towards McCoy Tyner before bringing it back to more familiar grounds as heard in his work with Common. Casually he made references to why jazz is relevant to black music today and plotted a vague route of the journey it took to get here.
Singer Bilal occasionally joined the trio to round off the experience. His distinctive wails turned the instrumentals into a finished product and gave the performance a final injection of soul. Once filled with life and history - overtly when the voice of Martin Luther King led into a speech by Obama - the evening thankfully stood as a reminder of why jazz music is a timeless sort, influential to many generations.
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