In October of 2018, Robert Glasper settled into a month-long residency at the Blue Note jazz club in New York — an experience to which, at this point, he’s likely very eager to return.
In the meantime, the pianist and his new collective R+R=NOW have shared a live album recorded that month, just after the group released their debut album Collagically Speaking via Blue Note.
Led by Glasper on keys, the highly regarded, genre-bending band features the formidable talents of Terrace Martin on synthesizer, vocoder, and alto saxophone; Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet; Derrick Hodge on bass; Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer; and Justin Tyson on drums.
By the time R+R=NOW had released their album, the music had already taken on whole new dimensions in their live performances. You can hear it on R+R=NOW LIVE, a thrilling live recording that features several of Collagically Speaking‘s standout tracks such as Respond, Change of Tone and Resting Warrior. The live set also includes a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s How Much a Dollar Cost from the rapper’s widely acclaimed 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, on which Glasper and Martin also worked.
Inspired by Nina Simone while he was working on Nina Revisited, a companion album to the 2015 documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, Glasper says that R+R stands for “reflect and respond.” While being criticized for her political outspokenness, Simone said that “an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”
“When you reflect what’s going on in your time and respond to that, you can’t not be relevant,” Glasper explains. “So ‘R’ plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW.’”
Collagically Speaking blended the sounds of neo-soul, modern funk, West Coast jazz, instrumental hip-hop, electronica, avant-garde and classical music. The songs were written and recorded live off the floor in single takes, an impressive fact given the album’s expansive, cohesive sounds. It featured guest voices including actors Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews and Amanda Seales; rappers Stalley and yasiin bey (formerly known as Mos Def); and singers Amber Navran and Goapele.
The lineup for R+R=NOW came together in 2017 when Glasper was asked to put together an all-star lineup for a SXSW show at the Empire Control Room in Austin, Texas.
“There was no rehearsal and no plan. Just a quick soundcheck,” Glasper says. And yet, “We were vibing, listening to each other, and coming up with stuff on the spot that was so dope, when it was time to figure out what my next album for Blue Note would be, I was like, ‘We should do this.’ I needed to take that same band and method to the studio.”
While it will be a while until fans can experience performances by R+R=NOW and others again, the group’s live record is a strong showcase of their impressive artistry.
R+R=NOW LIVE is available now via Blue Note.