Audio Mixer: Qmillion.
Recording information: ThePparlor Recording Studio, New Orleans, LA.
After the unqualified critical, chart, sales, and Grammy successes of the Robert Glasper Experiment's two Black Radio albums, remixes, and singles, the need to explore was requisite. ArtScience is a reflection of the qualities and musical interests that brought this band together. Their seamless meld of contemporary jazz, hip-hop, neo-soul, pop, and rock has influenced a host of artists following in their wake. This album marks a new modus operandi: it's the first time the band has written and produced collectively. (Even the two covers here were arranged by the unit.) It's also a first in that there are no guest vocal cameos. The set was recorded in New Orleans over two weeks apart from the endless touring and hustling solo careers of its members. While press materials advertise this as a "free" RGE album, its sounds are completely rooted in the group's signature. "This Is Not Fear" spends the first minute and a half engaged in aggressive post-bop improvisation; it shapeshifts into a hip-hop rhythm with sampled member introductions. The jazz angle is tight; one wishes this aspect of the track would have developed further. Glasper takes the vocal on the slippery "Thinkin' About You," the first of several songs about relationships here. He's not the best singer, but the dreamy neo-soul cum jazz groove more than compensates. "Day to Day" is smooth postmodern disco with a bumping bassline by Derrick Hodge. "No One Like You," at over nine minutes, is the Glasper Experiment at their most expansive, melding their various individual strengths in crisscrossing several genres. Benjamin's excellent sopraono saxophone solo is icing on the cake. The arrangement of Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" is closer to Quincy Jones' 1978 pop-soul version; it's not as lush, but Glasper delivers a gorgeous Rhodes solo. "Find You," with its skittering meld of EDM, funk, and prog rock, is classic Derrick Hodge -- it could easily have appeared on his The Second. He takes the lead vocal while guest Mike Severson adds a smoking guitar break amid a labyrinth of changes. The band gets back on the jazz tip for "In My Mind," containing a shifting harmonic center and knotty syncopation driven by Mark Colenburg's breaks. "Hurry Slowly' balances Steely Dan's intricate, infectious melodic sensibilities with spacy indie pop. "Written in Stone" (also with Severson) weaves together Bowie-esque pop, new wave, and spacy funk. The set closes with a thoroughly reimagined (and not tongue-in-cheek) neo-soul read of Human League's "Human," executed in grand RGE style with stacked production layers and taut, snapping hip-hop breaks by Colenburg. ArtScience is an excellent step forward. The range of material covers an expansive creative terrain--often mirroring the experimental directions the band pursues live--without sacrificing accessibility. While it's another example of RGE's particular brand musical synthesis or "fusion," it presents a new framework for future exploration and discovery. ~ Thom Jurek