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Glasper crafts a sound all his own

By Bill Beuttler
Globe Correspodent | January 21, 2006

Robert Glasper, the much-touted 28-year-old piano discovery signed to Blue Note Records, proved himself the real deal at Scullers Thursday. He hasn't merely got chops to burn. He's also got a unique voice that sets him apart from the crowd.

That voice has some recognizable components to be sure: an engaging yet sophisticated lyricism that calls to mind both Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, a harmonic sense that owes something to Herbie Hancock. But what Glasper does with them sounds like no one else.

He started off Thursday with the tune "Rise and Shine," which opens his CD "Canvas," introducing the piece by himself on piano. And though he was obviously displaying his considerable skill, he never let instrumental athleticism overwhelm his love of improvised melody. Drummer Damion Reid took a kind of solo over the tune's theme after the rest of the trio joined in, and Glasper quoted a familiar line by McCoy Tyner, altered ever so slightly, before concluding the piece.

"Am I In Your Way?" contained a quote, too: a tweaked version of Hancock's "Riot," the only cover tune on "Canvas." Again, Glasper led off the piece on his own, flashing through a few quick runs that made soft landings on slightly dissonant chords and otherwise showing off an amazingly precise right hand.

Reid, in whose honor, Glasper announced, the piece had been composed (the pianist has a penchant for inside-joke titles), came in on brushes as the theme started off simply and prettily. Bassist Alan Hampton, subbing for trio regular Vicente Archer, took a worthy unaccompanied solo. And then Glasper launched an uptempo riot, Reid's left hand lightly tapping breakneck time on his cymbal.

Another new original, "FTB," came next — ballad-like and even vaguely smooth-jazzy until Glasper took his solo and put it into gear. Hampton took another crowd-pleasing solo, fat-toned and agile, and then Glasper stepped back in and the tune grooved its way to a close.

A stretched-out improvisation closed the set. Glasper eased his way into "Enoch's Meditation," one of the prettiest pieces on a CD full of them. Glasper's solo piano passage hit a Jarrett-like groove at one point, slow and softly melodic, and the pianist went on to briefly quote some more thinly disguised Hancock — a few lines of "Maiden Voyage," which Glasper recorded for a previous CD. The song and set concluded with Glasper returning to the mesmerizing theme of "Enoch's Meditation."

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
© Bill Beuttler