Times they are a crazy right now and jazz is a genre that has often been most powerful when reacting to periods of unrest. The title of the Glasper-led supergroup R+R=Now is therefore key to processing this new new music; there is a calculated urgency to the message of ‘Reflect’ and ‘Respond’ and they want us all to do this now.
The quality of the composition, live show and interaction of the band is unquestionable. In addition to Robert Glasper on keyboards, the sextet is completed by Terrace Martin on synthesizer and vocoder, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synth and beatbox, and Justin Tyson on drums. It’s a monster band. It also achieves the impressive feat of synthesising their contrasting and complementary styles without compromising the edges that make each musician special. In some cases this is straight forward: Rob sits at the keys, laying the foundations of each track and compering the evening with comedic aplomb. Christian has developed a signature soloing style and cut-through trumpet tone that is given the room to do its thing here, as is Terrace’s gifted production ear on keys as well as the occasional saxophone excursion.
For Justin (drums), Derrick (bass) and Taylor (beatbox) the moments to shine are less organic but the solos that are facilitated for them in the course of the new music demonstrates a balance, equality and respect that not only other music but wider society can lack if the current moment is anything to go by. With supergroups, the classic pitfall is dominant characters overwhelming the experience or competing for the spotlight in a way that compromises the ensemble. Here then is the primary triumph of the band: music aside, the method of the band’s formation and on-stage dynamic leads by example.
Without laying too much responsibility on the shoulders of one band, if you claim to be inspired by leading-woman of jazz Nina Simone and her rallying cry about “an artist’s duty…to reflect the times” then lord knows these times need to reflect and respond with female voices/ideas/presence. Maybe this will be possible in the next iteration of the R+R=Now line-up and would complete one of the most musically and methodically compelling responses to the common era to emerge from the jazz world.