Music for Music: R+R=Now
Collagically Speaking, They Have Arrived
By Dan Ursini © 2018
Collagically Speaking, the title of the first album by R+R=NOW, nicely sums up the music of this band.
The word “collagically” evokes the loose unity of a collage, a multiplicity of perspectives. It suggests conversation, which accurately describes the generous musical interplay shared by the six members of this ensemble—each one a performer/composer/producer. In the process, they extend a larger conversation between jazz and hip hop.
This band was co-founded by keyboard player Robert Glasper—and sax/keyboard player and vocalist Terrace Martin. Each had collaborated on music by Common, Kanye West—and Kendrick Lamar, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. They invited into the band trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah; multi-instrumentalist Taylor McFerrin; bass guitarist Derrick Hodge and drummer Justin Tyson. This band has created an album in accord with the late jazz great Nina Simone’s assertion that it is the artist’s duty to reflect the times.
Their name derives from this: R+R= Reflect + Respond. The music has no overt political/social message. Yet it is earnestly of this moment, crafted by some of the forefront artists of American pop music, imbued with all the tension, urgency, and risk of the times we live in. But it is also filled with a creative strength and a generous heart that is especially refreshing now.
Each of these musicians has a presence strong enough to take over the whole show. Instead, as Glasper says,“we respect each other so much that we always pass the ball.” That is apparent on all eleven songs, especially “Resting Warrior,” a pulsing, deftly arranged piece.
Whether soloing or in the background, the contributions by all the musicians are inspired. The primary melody is carried by Christian Scott, whose playing is both muscular and lyrical. It is a highlight of a number of tracks. A key to Scott’s sound is a remarkably rich tone—a result of his work designing new brass instruments. One of them, the sirenette, blends elements of the trumpet, flugelhorn, and cornet.
When Terrace Martin sings into his vocoder, it sounds like an accordion, which makes sense, since it is a bellows instrument. It is an opening highlight of my favorite of the band’s many live performance videos on YouTube: a 17-minute “Butterfly / Change of Tone.”
Robert Glasper has a gift for outrageously perfect juxtapositions. This medley shifts between a group composition: “Change of Tone,” and Herbie Hancock’s standard, “Butterfly.” Glasper has fresh harmonic sensibilities. His heartfelt keyboard solos take turns both unexpected and memorable.
“Butterfly” is a ballad of loving tenderness, covered dozens of times over the years, each one with the deliberate slow tempo of Hancock Seventies Headhunters band.
But this one moves forcefully. A sign that musical visionaries have reached maturity is when they take a classic and do it their own way and it sounds unquestionably good. Their time has arrived.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: email@example.com