Bohemian Caverns provided the perfect setting for the Robert Glasper Experiment’s sold-out set on Friday night. The jazz club was acclaimed for featuring soul-jazz acts during its halcyon years, and pianist Glasper extended that legacy superbly.
Similar to how pianists Ramsey Lewis and Les McCann tapped into the pop and R&B music of the ’60s when they recorded their live LPs at Bohemian Caverns, Glasper did the same with the music of his generation. He brought a hip-hop perspective to modern jazz while also addressing music ranging from ’70s funk to “turn of the century” electronica. With his Experiment, Glasper surpassed the usual “jazz meets hip-hop” gambit by focusing on the feel instead of the sound of hip-hop, even on Busta Rhymes’s “Show Me What You Got” and Slum Village’s “Fall N Love.”
Indeed, the Experiment didn’t let hip-hop overshadow jazz; it emphasized vigorous improvisation and suspenseful collective interplay. It opened with an adventurous rendition of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on which bassist Derrick Hodge began the song with a haunting four-note throb, which paved the way for Glasper to peck out repetitive small motifs that he slowly developed into a lulling, impressionistic essay. The identifiable melody didn’t reveal itself until Casey Benjamin sang the song’s memorable chant on the vocoder, lending the song an edgy ’80s electro-funk vibe that would have made the late Roger Troutman proud. Glasper’s reluctance to mimic the block chord innovations of pianist McCoy Tyner, who played on the original version, also gave the Coltrane classic a 21st-century makeover — as did drummer Chris Dave’s serrated and skittering rhythmic flow.
From there, the concert proceeded in a suitelike manner with sterling renditions of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” and Roy Ayers’s “A Tear to a Smile” that segued into gripping takes on Radiohead’s “All I Need” and the Human League’s “Human” as Glasper shared the lead voice with Benjamin, who delighted on soprano and alto saxophones but really shined on the vocoder.
If Glasper wishes to record the Experiment live at a small club, the enthusiastic audience at Bohemian Caverns made that venue seem a fabulous choice.