Robert Glasper’s trio is back after claiming much well-deserved attention with its first release, Canvas. That album proved several things: the infinitude of possibilities within the jazz piano trio format; the syntheses of genres particuarly jazz and hip-hop that Glasperparticularly can make possible; the commitment of Blue Note Records to talented newcomers with unique musical vision; the outgrowth of Glasper’s music expression from his own personality and the introduction of jazz vocabulary to younger generations through Glasper’s accessibility, mixing coolness with high levels of energy and imagination.
Only 28 years old, Glasper has assimilated the wide range of musical interests that he heard during his childhood in Texas and then studied before his bursting upon the scene in New York. It’s obvious that he has listened closely to Herbie Hancock, not only from the fact that Glasper has reworked the classic "Maiden Voyage" on In My Element, but also from his touch and the freedom of his style used to bring to life his own composition "G&B," full of tricky rhythmic surprises, darting 16th-note snippets and streaming freedom of expression during the interlude between choruses.
Glasper gained inspiration from Mulgrew Miller, too, taking a lesson from him when Glasper was in high school. The payback for Miller’s generosity and advice is "One for ‘Grew," on which Glasper pays composition tribute by alluding to Miller’s improvisational logic, technical mastery, melodic sensibility and undulating ease in laying down a song. Those tracks represent some of Glasper’s jazz side.
On the hip-hop side, Glasper has overlain a relaxed streaming melody over drummer Damion Reid’s pronounced backbeat on "F.T.B." for an engaging contrast of styles. Interestingly enough, Reid uses the same beat on Glasper’s tribute to hip-hop producer J Dilla, "J Dillalude," which consists of a sequence of live-concert segments edited into a single track. As on "F.T.B.," Glasper lays back, cushioning with broad staggered chords Reid’s hip-hop beat that excites the audiences.
For all of the cool of Rober Glasper’s music, though, he ends In My Element with a powerful spiritual message on "Tribute," his slow, thoughtful musical memorial to his mother. Using the effectiveness of forceful contrasts once again, Glasper parallels his beautiful elegy and the Reverend Joe Ratliff’s recorded eulogy for his mother, who provided a "smile in the midst of her pain" and who "lived, I mean, she lived" during the "dash" between her "alpha and omega." The mourners are caught up in the spiritual upsweep of the sermon. And by ending In My Element with "Tribute," Glasper inserts a powerful omega to his second CD, though his dash will continue through Glasper’s future concerts and recordings.