R+R = NOW is a collective, brought together by Robert Glasper as a genre-smashing outfit that speaks out not as much in a protest mode, but more about expressing resiliency and hope. Each member is a player, composer, and producer on their own, so they are individually visionary. Combining them makes for album with many sections and styles, not to mention the influences of fusion jazz, R&B, hip-hop, trip-hop, rap, electronica and spoken word. Glasper is on keys, Terrace Martin plays synthesizer and vocoder, Christian Scott Tunde Adjuah is on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synth and beatbox, and newcomer Justin Tyson on drums. Vocal contributions come from neo soul artist Goapele.
”R+R stands for ‘Reflect’ and ‘Respond’,” says Glasper. The idea came to him via Nina Simone while he was co-producing Nina Revisited, a companion album to the 2015 film What Happened, Miss Simone? Facing backlash for her politics, Simone was asked, more or less, why she didn’t just shut up and sing. Her answer: “an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Glasper adds: “When you reflect what’s going on in your time and respond to that, you can’t not be relevant. So ‘R’ plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW’.”
We should probably touch on the word “collagically” as well because it’s one you don’t see that often. Think of collage – lots of diverse parts and you’ve got it. Like a collage, there’s a seamless quality as neo-soul merges with future-funk, West Coast jazz fuses with astral electronica, avant-garde to classical. The amazing part though is that these pieces were written live in the room and all done in a single take. The origin of the group came in 2017 when Glasper was asked to put together an all-star line-up for a SXSW show at Empire Control Room. “There was no rehearsal and no plan. Just a quick soundcheck,” says Glasper of R+R=NOW’s Austin debut. 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.”
It becomes difficult to put your finger on it when listening. Classical-like piano pieces merge into contemporary funk and then into spacy electronic passages below Scott’s muted trumpet. The prevailing mode is trip-hop and R&B while many of the tracks migrate toward either spoken word or vocal choruses or both. Guest voices emerge as well: actors Omari Hardwick (Power) and Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Expendables); actress Amanda Seales (Insecure); MCs Stalley and yasiin bey (f.k.a. Mos Def); and singers Amber Navran (of Moonchild) and Goapele. The themes that bind it all together are both spoken and inferred: romantic love, universal love, systemic bigotry, the women’s movement, quiet power, wild creativity, personal loss and growth. The range of emotions is as diverse as the musical styles.
R+R = NOW is a remarkable musical statement with many moving parts. Take the time to listen. If you’re fortunate you may catch them in Atlanta, D.C., or Brooklyn before they embark or European and Asian tours.