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R+R=NOW Collagically Speaking music for a new era of activism

The genre of jazz is no stranger to super-groups, and there is a new gang making the scene this summer. Led by new vanguard heavyweights Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and Terrace Martin; R+R=Now brings a neo-soul feel, poignant spoken-word performances, and A-1 improvisation to their debut recording Collagically Speaking. Those approaching the album expecting “bangers” might leave disappointed, but listeners are sure to be treated to solid grooves rooted in the jazz tradition, designed to respond to the polarized state of today’s society.

It must be said from the start that, like all of Glasper’s and Scott’s most-recent projects, there is no dearth of talent. From Glasper’s delicate touch on the piano, to the masterful use of the vocoder and samples by Martin, the entire group functions on a level of synchronicity exhibited by musicians twice their ages. The trumpet work of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is evocative of Miles Davis, circa Big Fun or Bitches Brew -- whispery, with plenty of space in between -- while Derrick Hodge lays down a firm foundation of grooving riffs and playful improvisation. The group is rounded off by producer/beatboxer/DJ/keyboardist Taylor McFerrin, who adds a nuance to the recording that will draw in those who might otherwise be put off by the stereotypical  “jazz” label. Finally, up-and-coming drummer Justin Tyson’s improvisation and artistry on this record proves he is a musician to watch in the coming years.

The album itself is remarkably produced, providing a solid through-line all the way from start to finish; numbers like “Awake to You” and “By Design” flow seamlessly together, while the spoken-word cuts provide a much-needed societal mirror. The cuts that jump out most are the numbers where the musicians are given free-rein. “Resting Warrior,” “Colors in the Dark,” and “Her=NOW” drive the album forward, and “Change of Tone” works perfectly as the lead-off number, drawing the listener in with a catchy hook that provides an earworm for the rest of the day. Amanda Seales’ spoken-word on “Her=NOW” is poignant and delivered with strength, pairing well with Hodge’s bass work. The album culminates with the beautiful sentiment, “Love is God’s signature on all of creation. Love is the Universe making itself known to itself and to everything inside of it.”

Glasper stated the inspiration for his group came from a quote from Nina Simone, that “an artist’s duty [. . .] is to reflect the times.” Glasper added that “When you reflect what's going on in your time and respond to that, you can't not be relevant. So ‘R’ plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW’.”

If the aim of the group is to provide an accurate reflection and response to the social, economic, and political climate of the time, they truly succeeded. The spoken-word pieces provide needed social commentary, while the musicianship reminds us that beauty can still be found, if we look for it. If Collagically Speaking is an indication of what we can expect from this great collective, listeners will not be disappointed.

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