Blue Note used to cultivate more artists like Robert Glasper. Nowadays‚ the label frantically searches for another Norah Jones while jettisoning groundbreaking players like Charlie Hunter and Greg Osby. Far from being intimidated‚ In My Element shows Glasper is determined to not only make his own sound‚ but show his generation that jazz and hip-hop are not incompatible.
This doesn't mean turntables abound here; Glasper rightly says jazz/hip-hop hybrids "can be corny." Instead‚ he filters the hip-hop aesthetic through the jazz-trio matrix. Glasper's solos and chord progressions are firmly in the house of Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk‚ but the beats laid down by drummer Damion Reid and bassist Vicente Archer fly at the speed of sound‚ giving tunes a hard-charging groove that belies Glasper's deft touch.
It's cool in jazz to cover Radiohead‚ but Glasper takes it further by throwing "Everything in Its Right Place" in a blender with Hancock's "Maiden Voyage"; the result is a wild mash-up where references from both tunes come and go like musical Whack-a-Moles. Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" is introspective and exploratory at the same time‚ while "Y'Outta Praise Him" gently takes four gospel hymns and then blows them to pieces.
Glasper isn't afraid to dig into his own life for inspiration: He uses a voicemail of his goddaughter singing a tune she wrote as a prelude to the Mulgrew Miller homage "One for 'Grew." Another voicemail - this time from hip-hop superstar Q-Tip -- intros "J Dillalude‚" a mosaic of live improv inspired by the late hip-hop producer J Dilla. "Tribute" (written for Glasper's late mother) could have been maudlin‚ but it takes on a whole new shade when he overlays the rousing eulogy Reverend Joe Ratliff gave at her funeral.
Glasper takes the hip-hop metaphor too far when he ends tunes with snippets of the following piece. It's used on hip-hop discs to create drama and flow‚ but it gets old fast here. That aside‚ In My Element is a definite jump in Glasper's growth as a player and innovator‚ and proves one Robert Glasper is worth fifty Norah Joneses.