Keyboardist Robert Glasper purportedly came up with the concept for R+R=Now (which means reflect and respond now), his forward-looking jazz supergroup, while producing Nina Revisited, a companion album to the 2015 Nina Simone documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? While musically far afield of Simone's own literate, bluesy piano-and-vocal style of jazz, R+R=Now's debut album, 2018's Collagically Speaking, has a cinematic quality that speaks to Glasper's original impulse to make music inspired by Simone's artistically adventurous, socially and politically minded work. Joining Glasper are a handful of equally adventurous jazz iconoclasts, including trumpeter Christian Scott, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Justin Tyson, keyboardist Taylor McFerrin, and keyboardist and singer Terrace Martin. All of these musicians, not the least being Glasper, have their own distinctively cross-pollinated discographies that dip into jazz, R&B, hip-hop, electronica, film scores, and beyond. There are also several guest artists here, including vocalists Goapele and Omari Hardwick and DJ Jahi Sundance. Together, Glasper and his collaborators bring all of their varied experience to bear on Collagically Speaking, a far-reaching, organically realized set of tracks that feels surprisingly balanced, despite the genre-bending nature of the project and strong artistic personalities involved. Primarily, they craft ambient, groove-based soundscapes that allow for both melodic hooks and more probing, improvisational sections. Tracks like the languid "Awake to You" and half-lidded "By Design" have a sultry, cocoon-like ambience in which rippling synths rub up against Scott's breathy, muted trumpet, as Martin's soulful voice shimmers through alien vocoder haze. Elsewhere, they take a more kinetic approach, launching into the breakbeat-inflected modal jazz anthem "Resting Warrior" and the acidic fusion number "The Night in Question." Other cuts touch upon piano-accented contemporary jazz ("Colors in the Dark"), alt-rap ("Needed You Still"), and ambient new age ("Been on My Mind"). In keeping with Nina Simone's outspoken influence, there is also an undercurrent of social awareness on Collagically Speaking, including a motivational speech about success from actor Terry Crews on "The Night in Question" and a passionate and insightful feminist spoken word piece by standup comic Amanda Seales on "Her=Now." None of these more pointedly thought-provoking additions detract from the overall flow of the album, and instead add to the overarching vibe of open-minded creativity, love, and empowerment.
© Matt Collar /TiVo