I am always apprehensive when I see a jazz superstar play an intimate venue then move to a monster-size venue. Jazz-heads are typically spoilt when it comes to performances. You are not too far away from the artist of choice to notice the details in terms of what hand gestures they make to other members, even down to the watch they are wearing. The smaller venues may be more expensive, but you do also have the sensation that this is a personal ‘living-room’ experience that is unlikely to repeated at larger venues. Having said that, these days if an artist can make the large venue circuit, I tilt my hat to them. And I know my hats.
The entry to the venue was quick even though the queue was hundreds strong. The security were very polite checking all bags on entry.
There was a buzz of anticipation in air and surprisingly no one was at the bar as the audience eagerly awaited the DJ to commence the warm-up set. The DJ did not disappoint, playing hip-hop, funk, soul, classic R&B, ending on a heavy 'ragga tip’. I did not catch the DJ's name. Apparently, he tours a lot with RGX. He was fantastic. The crowd continued to shuffle, nod their heads and sing at the top of their voices; this was even before the band appeared.
8.30pm had passed and there was no sign of the main act. Now I am thinking this is the Ronnie Scotts’ experience again; I can be a little impatient at times as like many, I depend on the transport links. However, there were apparently a number of technical issues, ranging from microphone pops to video projections not synchronizing. This was intermittent throughout the performance, but the band persevered and the crowd did not seem to mind.
Gilles Peterson eventually took to the stage and introduced Robert Glasper as his friend, adding he had been playing in UK for twelve years, as was no stranger to these shores. Later during the gig, Glasper said he could not remember the last time he played with himself! He was full of innuendos and one-liners.
As the band took to their positions the Bruce Lee video lost sound again and went out of focus. The audience laughed as the crowd was greeted with the Microsoft Windows start screen. The DJ appeared and played to fill the empty air for 12 seconds and then it happened....the crowd cheered and clapped as Mark Colenburg started a hard-bop drum solo, followed by multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, to what was to be the start of This Is Not Fear - the first track of the new album. The bass sounded great as it sent a low vibration into the crowd. Just what the Jazz Doctor ordered.
When Robert Glasper came on stage, the crowd were hyped, inducing the feeling I had when I first listened to the album. This is a true testament to his production and live performance skills.
Casey Benjamin demonstrated mad skills on the Keytar whilst singing No One Like You. This was taken at a slightly faster pace than album, which brought energy to the performance. The crowd loved it, sang along whilst swaying as if it was the national anthem. On top of that he effortlessly switched to the soprano sax for a solo bouncing off the drum solo's syncopated beats. There was real synergy in this conversation of instruments.
Watching Mark Colenburg play drums is llike watching a skilled octopus play two drums kits and electronic pads. Mesmerising to say the least.
Robert Glasper introduced the band with natural comedy adding the DJ is a smooth looking, like Marvin Gaye. (I’ll leave out the profanity!). His comedy continued and was on point although when he asked the crowd who had actually listened to the CD. "I don't mean streaming like Spotify!” It kind-of went quiet...oops! He was quick to continue, " I will be signing CDs and I have vinyl. Don't bring me tissues, ticket stubs and s@*t to sign!" The crowd fell over laughing. This man could quite literally get a sideline gig as a comedy chat host. He has a natural flair.
He resumed with Thinking About You without the album's vocoder effects. Not sure, what I thought about that, but please don't do it again, Robert!
The drum solo detonated explosions that were jaw dropping as Mark Colenburg began the song Find You. You can see why he is heavily in demand. Casey Benjamin improvised on the electronics effects pad, electronic keyboard and Keytar. I get the impression they have done that before. There is no stopping this band.
Regrettably I had to leave but was able to catch You And Me with the guitar solo. This song was too short because it was too good!
Casey Benjamin then announced he met some ‘dude’ outside and wanted to give him the opportunity to sing, adding he doesn’t really know him but wanted to help him out. On walked Omar lye-fool, better known as Omar. He probably got one of the biggest rounds of applause as he improvised with his usual scatting and comedy lyrics. Incidentally, he did this at with Robert Glasper earlier this year at Ronnie Scotts, but it was still good to hear again.
Review: Fernando Rose