The Glasper Experiment are no strangers to fusing different genres, as is obvious on their most recent album ArtScience, which is a heavy blend of funk, soul and romantic R&B. In their previous work on Black Radio and Black Radio 2, the primary emphasis was on the guest artists, from Lupe Fiasco to Jill Scott. On this album however, and during the gig itself, Casey Benjamin, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, takes centre stage. The more relaxed, in-house vibe of the album is clear throughout the performance. At the beginning of the gig Benjamin requests reverb on his sax. “You hear that?” Robert Glasper asks the crowd, raising his brow… “he wants some reverb on his sax.” Benjamin then responds with an easy grin and a soft “always” into the mic. This easy exchange epitomises the feeling of this gig – that the crowd are merely sitting in on a casual jamming session between friends.
Throughout the entire performance, improvs are interwoven, giving the performance a powerfully raw and stripped back feel that is a striking feature of the album itself. The positioning of each musician shapes the entire experience of the performance as there’s an almost kinetic power to the way that the steady beats of the percussion impact the rhythmic keys that flow from the left. Glasper approaches the keys exactly how Buddy Guy approaches his guitar – with an almost blasé nonchalance that lets everyone know who’s in charge. Positioned to the left of the stage, Glasper never loses that sense of authority, even as he distantly scans the room, a toothpick gripped loosely between his teeth. As soon as he begins playing you can see exactly why that authority is there; his fingers flow rapidly, dripping soul onto every single key.
Although the crowd are slow to warm up, the turning point of the gig is when Benjamin hits a powerful, shattering improvisation on the alto sax, causing the guy directly in front of him to clutch his head in awe. He approached me afterwards stating that although Prince will always be the greatest performance he’s witnessed, this would go down in history as a close second. “I think he just taught me something about what it means to be a human being”, he said, shaking his head in dazed disbelief. From that point on, the crowd follows the band wherever they go, swaying their heads with the soft, elusive vocals of Benjamin on Tell me a Bedtime Story and grooving along to the more powerful energised tracks such as Thinkin' Bout You. As the band drift into melodic snippets from Slum Village’s Fall in Love and The Internet’s Girl, the crowd raise their arms in recognition, and sing along to the iconic hooks. The Police’s Roxanne stole the show from the other covers, leading the band into their final crescendo. The stream of sustained energy that emerged from each musician was a fervid finish to a performance that seemed a perfect tribute to music in all its forms.
Words: Lydia Entwistle