A who’s who of contemporary musical artists have mingled with Robert Glasper, a classically trained pianist whose infectious creativity has propelled numerous projects. The Houston native started making artistic waves while attending the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music at The New School in New York City in the late 1990s, eventually falling in with like-minded artists from The Roots and Erykah Badu to J Dilla and Mos Def. Work as a composer and record producer followed, as did a series of solo albums for Blue Note Records, the esteemed jazz label.
In 2012, yearning to expand beyond traditional jazz expectations, Glasper dropped Black Radio, an R&B-centric affair that delves into a broad swath of the Black experience and features collaborations with the aforementioned Badu and Mos Def, as well as Bilal, Meshell Ndegeocello and others. Black Radio won a Grammy and spawned a sequel, 2013’s Black Radio 2, but the live experience is where Glasper’s work remains most intriguing. Like buddy and collaborator Kamasi Washington, Glasper relishes in the frequently spontaneous push and pull of the live setting, playing off his fellow musicians in ways both familiar and unpredictable.
While Glasper’s contributions to various projects in recent years — including providing some sweet piano licks on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and serving as musical producer for Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead — remained fruitful, the pandemic inspired him to return to familiar territory with the recently released Black Radio III, which features appearances from Killer Mike, Esperanza Spalding, H.E.R., Posdnuos, Jennifer Hudson, Q-Tip and more.
“So much has happened from 2019 to now,” Glasper said in a recent interview with Okayplayer. “I hadn’t done a Black Radio in eight years and I wasn’t going to do another one. But when the pandemic hit, I felt like people needed it. I needed it. The process of it would heal me and help me from going crazy because it would give me something to do.”
Besides a surprise appearance here and there, Glasper’s current tour is unlikely to feature the various guest collaborators that populate the record, which just means there will be more time for him and his core band to do their thing.
Robert Glasper performs July 23 at Ludlow Garage. Doors open at 7 p.m. There are no COVID-19 protocols. Info: ludlowgaragecincinnati.com.