Robert Glasper has pulled off something very thrilling within the past decade that has great meaning for a lover of variations of R&B, Funk, and Hip Hop that have space for the type of swinging improvisational music known as “jazz.” Just as Miles Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Charles Lloyd and many other luminaries did in the ’60s and ’70s, he has sought out, with his band, an instrumental jazz form that maintained the root rhythmic appeal of popular Black music. He’s advanced the type of instrumental fusions championed by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Quincy Jones, by opening up Jazz improvisation to the more modern R&B variants of Neo Soul and J-Dilla influenced Hip Hop. Now mixtures of Jazz and Hip Hop are by no means new, with Herbie Hancock striking gold with “Rockit” in 1984, and Miles Davis final “Doo Bop” album with Easy Mo Bee, in addition to the way artists like George Duke and Norman Brown in the smooth jazz idiom embraced New Jack Swing beats as a foundation for improv. What makes what The Robert Glasper Experiment unique is by virtue of age, its members are just as much Hip Hop people as they are Jazz/instrumental people. So they have no qualms giving a song exactly what they feel it needs, as opposed to viewing a songs primary purpose being as a vehicle for improvisation. While I have not always liked everything they’ve done, feeling they’ve tended to rely more on setting a head nod mood in the vein of ’90s Neo Soul, “Day to Day” is truly a standout cut from their latest album, “ArtScience.” The band does something unique on this song, which is far more frequently done across the pond than here in the lower 48, which is craft a disco-jazz influenced dance floor vocal song in the vein of Herbie Hancock’s work in the late ’70s. “Day to Day” was a groovy surprise to me and is our featured song of this week.
The song begins with a rock solid, march step post-disco dance beat, accompanied by an off beat cowbell riff. Corey Benjamin’s vocals come in at a somewhat surprising spot, before the introduction has finished it’s 8 bar cycle. His first lyrics are “Its Now…”, which combined with his earlier than expected entry, helps magnify the funky sense of urgency. When Benjamin comes in, he’s accompanied by some middle aged piano chords. Benjamin’s vocals also are coated with a slight layer of auto tune which forcefully send one note into the next. After he gets through one verse, the bass guitar is introduced, and it plays an interesting variation on Michael Jackson’s classic “Billie Jean” bassline, but instead of repeating the pumping 8th note riff on the same notes, the bass player moves the baseline through the chord change sequence. At the chorus uplifting chords are introduced along with the hook, “I’m living day to day/show me the way to your heart.” The bass also gets in some Paul Jackson style fills, while the arrangement adds Fender Rhodes to its acoustic piano tones. During the next verse a funky rhythm guitar riff is introduced along with strings as the arrangement begins to build in intensity. By the next chorus the strings are more lively, as is the background singing, as the chorus adds some extra repetitions. This is followed by a bridge section where Benjamin sings accompanied by Glaspers Fender Rhodes runs. Which then falls off into an interlude where Glasper plays a simple but funky single note Fender Rhodes rhythm part supported by string stabs. After which, the chorus comes back in with its vamps, which puts the record solidly in the mode of late ’70s dance records. As the record vamps on and on Glasper has more space for the Herbie Hancock like Rhodes playing. Glasper plays his steady Rhodes parts in the interlude as the guitar plays a chopping octave part. The guitar continues to vamp on in that vein until it fades away to the sound of the guitar player playing a bluesy riff.
“Day to Day” is a unique disco/funk/jazz song. Most musicians who reference the fusion era of jazz tend to go for the more experimental, solo heavy side of it. But there was a whole other school of funky jazz that also toyed around with disco rhythms and structures at the end of the ’70s on into the early ’80s. Herbie Hancock played with this style on his albums like “Sunlight”, “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now”, and “Monster.” And this song screams Hancock, from Corey Benjamin’s vocoder like auto tune, to Glaspers Fender Rhodes noodling, to Paul Jackson like bass playing. What makes it unique is that these jazz men who play brilliant straight ahead on the rest of the album, here find the song craft and production sheen to play a straight dance oriented song with vocals. Bringing back the sound of quality dance music played and produced by well trained musicians, something lacking in today’s music that was so common it was taken for granted in the ’70s and ’80s. Lets hope that highly eclectic and diverse band continues to mine this as one of their musical sounds on into its future!