Top positive review
Black Radio 2 - The Journey Continues...
on 6 January 2014
The evolution of Robert Glasper and his colleagues as the 'Robert Glasper Experiment' continues apace with the release of 'Black Radio 2', accompanied by, and written in conjunction with, a host of guest appearances guaranteed to whet the appetite of every lover of contemporary black soul music, including Jill Scott (thankfully included this time!), Faith Evans, Dwele, Brandy, Lalah Hathaway, Bilal and Jazmine Sullivan. The first volume was explicitly referenced, through an accompanying liner note essay, as an attempt to fuse disparate elements from within the 'black' musical tradition and to locate Jazz as part of this wider musical discourse. The result was a was a critical and commercial success, quickly leading to the release in late 2012 of 'Black Radio Recovered: The Remixes' (Blue Note).
The album opens with 'Baby Tonight' (Black Radio 2 Theme), a short vocoder infused entry reminiscent of the late 1970s fusion style of Herbie Hancock, segueing in to 'Mic Check 2', bringing together short vocal interjections by the artists featured on the album. 'I Stand Alone' (featuring Common and Patrick Stump) is a composition clearly designed to stand as a call to black consciousness, attempting to link the African American experience to a deeper, trans-historical narrative of African creativity and identity. Replete with uplifting piano sketching, Common takes up the call in a typically mono-toned performance, whilst referencing Louis Farrakhan. The difficulties in positing and articulating a black musical exceptionalism is captured by the inclusion of a spoken word dialogue (for which the music fades down), citing the '[...] irresistible appeal of black individuality' whilst bemoaning a general lack of creative originality except for the efforts of artists obsessed with excellence. A song under 5 minutes is not likely to allow sufficient space for the complexities of such a discourse to be explored! Brandy delivers a vocally assured 'What Are We Doing', before Jill Scott takes centre stage for 'Calls'. Scott remains one of the most talented female singers of her generation, and her performance is typical of her style, exhibiting her ability to effortlessly weave between varied emotional shadings. Dwele's 'Worries' continues the low key groove, whilst the UK's very own Marsha Ambrosius (formerly of 'Floetry') features on 'Trust', providing a substantial emotional and musical core to the album.
Other sure footed performances are provided by Anthony Hamilton, Faith Evans and Eric Roberson, whilst Norah Jones features on the 'Drum & Bass' influenced 'Let It Ride', driven by exceptionally frenetic and skilled playing in the reprise. Two covers are provided by way of Stevie Wonder's 'Jesus Children' and Bill Withers' 'Lovely Day'.
So do you buy?
Fans of 'Black Radio' will find 'Black Radio 2' continuing a familiar musical narrative, the album remains rooted in a low to mid tempo groove throughout (except for 'Let It Ride'). The musicianship is, as might be expected, of a very high standard, and this is clearly important to the group's identity - the liner notes stating clearly that '[...] there are no programmed loops on this album. Everything you hear was played live'. Yet even given this excellence in performance, and the stellar guest list, as a listening experience something remains awry, a sense heightened by the self-conscious claims of the work to artistic excellence as a musical work of art. Judged by such terms the results are mixed, hampered by a lack of stylistic variety, and the familiarity of the musical ground covered. Clearly this is a group producing work of serious intent, aware of their wider musical heritage and possibly frustrated by the musical fare that is often accorded the labels 'Black music' or 'Urban', with all the stereotypes and inanity that can be found so easily. Set in this context 'Black Radio 2' is a welcome respite, but it does not offer anything substantially new when compared to the wider traditions it wishes to reference and apparently build and expand upon ('Drum & Bass' meeting 'Jazz' - see Herbie Hancock or Roni Size for better examples).
This is a group still learning and growing, and undoubtedly there is greater (and more original work) to be expected in the future. For the moment, despite the flaws, listeners should simply enjoy the ride.