Because I was bidding Steve Wiecking, our already-missed former associate editor, goodbye with karaoke around the corner at Bada (turns out I completely rule at Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl"), I ended up skipping the second half of the Robert Glasper Trio's set last Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Tula's, the second of his three-night run. I'm glad I got to see Steve off, but I do wish I'd caught more of Glasper, whose new Canvas (Blue Note) is one of my most-played albums of the past few months. The pianist's casual dress (Ecko T-shirt, baggy jeans, loose windbreaker) made me feel a bit better about not getting myself up more for the event, as well, though I still turned fewer heads than when I arrived at the World Saxophone Quartet show the previous Friday at the Triple Door in an obnoxious fish-motif Hawaiian shirt.
Glasper, bassist Robert Hurst (who doesn't play on Canvas), and drummer Damion Reid (who does) opened with the new album's lead cut, "Rise and Shine." Glasper began with unaccompanied, near-cubist figures that gradually clustered and grew closer to each other, almost Steve Reich– or Philip Glass–like, before slowing into a straighter groove then outlined by the rhythm section. Not too much, though—the trio played it looser than on the record, and if at first it seemed tentative, that soon gave way to a fleet, light, playful feel that wasn't especially demonstrative about its own charm, even when Glasper messed with the basic structure and drummer Reid played loosey-goosey all over the kit. Glasper slammed a few notes during a late bridge, signaling the drummer to get rambunctious while the leader eased down, an unexpectedly lovely juxtaposition that the band then faded into a close.
Glasper's figures on the jaunty version of the standard "Yesterdays" that followed would have been equally at home on a B3 organ; he and especially Hurst turned it into a groove exercise. The bassist held center stage while Glasper kept watch on the melody, only for Glasper to get back in front so gracefully I didn't fully notice it until he'd shifted the entire unit's direction. The musicians' weave was strengthening by the minute; by the middle number, which Glasper announced as "Green Days," I stopped taking notes entirely and spent my ear time just trying to figure out where one of them began and the others ended. Glasper and Reid brought out another variation on the understated-piano/militant-drumming combo that outdid the last, while Hurst made his solo count. Oh, wait—I did take some notes. "Fucking perfect," I wrote.
Glasper ended the set with a new tune with a striking, descending lead melody—so new, he said, "I don't have a name for it. If anybody has some suggestions, let me know." Hey! I've got one: "Nasty Girl." Oh right, that's been taken. Hmmm—how about "Obnoxious Fish-Motif Hawaiian Shirt"? We'll have to wait till next album, I guess, to find out.