Jazz/R&B Supergroup R+R=NOW Deliver Thrilling Live Album: ‘R+R =NOW Live’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Led by keyboardist Robert Glasper the super group R+R=NOW turned heads with their 2018 studio debut, Collagically Speaking (covered on these pages) for its unprecedented blend of jazz, R&B, electronica, and hip-hop grooves. In October of that same year Glasper had a month-long residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC, on several nights of which he assembled the collective for live performances that fuel this recording, R+R= NOW Live.   The collective includes some of the brightest names in the contemporary scene, three of whom had stellar albums of their own as leaders as recently as the past year. They are Terrace Martin (synthesizer, vocoder, and alto sax), Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (trumpet), Derrick Hodge (bass), Taylor McFerrin (synthesizer) and Justin Tyson (drums). On these pages we covered stellar leader albums from Adjuah (Axiom – a Glide Top 20 Jazz pick), McFerrin’s his first vocal effort, Love’s Last Chance and Hodge’s shapeshifting, genre-agnostic Color of Noize.

As one would expect with a live album, the tunes become more expansive and adventurous. Two of them extend beyond ten minutes and the epic version of “Resting Warrior” from the studio album extends beyond 25 minutes in this setting.  In many cases the music is indeed dreamlike and spacey, a product in part of the combination of electric keyboards and synths played by three different players at the same time per “Change of Tone,” also from the studio album. Within the improvisations, there are plenty of melodic passages in addition to deep grooves. The group also does a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost” (co-written by Martin) that has been available to stream or download since December. The other six are all written collaboratively with various combinations of group members with Adjuah having a hand in all six.

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, 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’.”

 As we listen to “Perspectives/Postpartum,” part Adjuah, part McFerrin, this description of mine for the studio album applies – “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.” Yet, unlike the studio album which often migrated toward either spoken word or vocal choruses or both, the emphasis here is slightly tilted to the instrumental side.  Martin carries on five tunes and uses the vocoder on the opening “Respond.” On “Needed You Still,” which also appeared on the studio effort, actor Omari Hardwick returns for his spoken word part in the extended version of the composition. The concluding stretched-out “Resting Warrior” with its insistent beats, bubbling basslines and inspired solos from the horns and keyboardists could well become a lengthy classic akin to pieces such as Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” some of early Miles fusion pieces like “In a Silent Way” or Gary Bartz’s “Another Earth.” Rarely have we heard Martin, as one example, play so aggressively on alto. We’ve come to expect it from Adjuah, who strongly delivers again here following Martin to set up similarly inspired turns from the keyboardists and rhythm section, with Tyson bringing it to a climactic boil.

The origin of R+R=NOW came in 2017 when Glasper was asked to put together an all-star line-up for a show at SXSW. Martin, of L.A., was best-known as a chief architect of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. NOLA native Adjuah turned heads with his socially charged 2017 Centennial trilogy, a comprehensive celebration of Africa’s sonic diaspora. Philly’s Hodge is a founding member of the Robert Glasper Experiment and has scored for Spike Lee and music-directed for Maxwell. McFerrin, born in Brooklyn, is Bobby McFerrin’s oldest son and rolls with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder camp. Grand Rapids native Tyson plays with Esperanza Spalding and has become a regular in all Glasper’s formations due to his versatility. Their diverse wealth of experience melded with profound ease. “There was no rehearsal and no plan. Just a quick soundcheck,” says Glasper of the band’s Austin debut. And yet, “We were vibing, listening to each other, and coming up with stuff on the spot that was so dope.” 

Adjuah sums up the vibe perfectly – “Everyone in this band is a six-foot-tall black guy who didn’t come from an affluent background,” says Adjuah. “In order for us all to make it into that room together, we’ve had to go through some hell, fight for some things, build up a lot of armor, and do a lot ourselves to forge our realities, to become who we are. We’re all very aware of that, so anytime we get together, it’s a celebration.” You can certainly feel that sense of freedom and passion in this riveting, stirring performance.

 

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