Album Review: Everything's Beautiful by Robert Glasper
Very Good, Based on 7 Critics
Exclaim - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Robert Glasper isn't the first to attempt a remix or "re-imagining" of the oeuvre of Miles Davis ¾ Bill Laswell's 1998 Panthalassa project earns that distinction — yet Everything's Beautiful, which features an impressive array of guest artists reconstructing new tracks from Davis samples, as well as a couple of choice covers, is the most accessible of any such previous projects.That's not a knock. Glasper has proven the most commercially successful of the new breed of jazz heads, fusing a hip-hop and soul-flavoured jazz-fusion that never sacrifices artistic integrity. Everything's Beautiful continues in that exceptional spirit.
In the world of modern jazz, not many are as popular or eclectic as Robert Glasper. Fusing elements of hip-hop and soul into his work, it’s no wonder that the Houston native has worked with everyone from jazz saxophonist Terrace Martin to soul singer Erykah Badu to rapper Mos Def. Black Radio, his last album, exemplified this unique place that Glasper holds in modern music, with songs that revitalized neo-soul, jazz-hop fusions that emcees rapped over, and even a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover all thrown onto the album.
Everything's Beautiful isn't quite a tribute or a remix project. It's not a collaboration between Miles Davis and Robert Glasper, as it is billed. On the surface, from a stylistic standpoint and in terms of personnel, it is closer to a sequel to Black Radio Recovered. Predominantly relaxed and rather ethereal, richly layered yet not quite psychedelic, and rhythmically hip-hop more than anything else, the two releases feature much of the same production and vocal lineup, including Glasper and partner Jewels, Georgia Anne Muldrow, 9th Wonder, and Bilal and Phonte.
In cinephile circles, biopics are notorious for being underwhelming. Nitpicking can come from multiple directions—with one camp deriding a central lack of tension in the telling of an icon’s familiar story, and another wailing over any dramatic liberty taken with the historical record. Director and actor Don Cheadle’s new film about Miles Davis plunges consciously and energetically into this fraught zone, not least because it dares to call itself Miles Ahead (aka the title of one of Davis’ great big band LPs).
Pianist Robert Glasper has spent the past 10 years decorously disassembling whatever walls folk may imagine separate the romantic funk of modern R&B from the abstract truths and monster chops of modern jazz. This not-having-two-effs-to-give quality alone renders Glasper a qualified son of Miles Davis and the ideal cat to aid actor/director/screenwriter/ producer Don Cheadle in scoring his film Miles Ahead. That occasion also provided Glasper the opportunity to perform a double booyaka – i.e.
Jazz pianist Robert Glasper works on two tracks: one formal, with the acoustic trio that brought him to fame a decade ago; the other in a progressive R&B vein, driven by concept albums where Glasper invites soul and hip-hop stars and curates, produces, and plays keyboards on what results. The two approaches aren’t opposed: Glasper and friends come from a generation raised in the 1980s-90s on the full spectrum of Black music (and more); Glasper himself attended the Houston arts high school that also produced, among others, pianist Jason Moran and a certain Beyoncé Knowles. Glasper’s first hybrid, “Black Radio” (2012), was a breakthrough, anchored by a glorious Erykah Badu take on “Afro Blue,” with Glasper’s Experiment sextet as the glue connecting the songs.
The first sound on Everything's Beautiful is Miles Davis's unmistakable rasp, from a session where the tape kept rolling between takes. He's growling out orders to the band from the engineering booth, cajoling them into playing an arrangement he hears in his head. As he talks, a repeating piano figure crops up; moments later, a drum machine drops in, invigorating the old recording with contemporary flavour.