Shrinking CD sales have put jazz musicians, with their already minuscule market share, in an even more precarious position. Today, even Blue Note Records, the most storied label in jazz history, puts out albums by pop artists like Norah Jones, Al Green, Keren Ann, and the Bird and the Bee. The Houston-born-and-raised pianist ROBERT GLASPER is one of eight jazz artists still signed to the venerable giant, and on BLACK RADIO, he’s following a well-trodden path: he’s recorded a crossover vocal album. Glasper has previously worked with the rappers Q-Tip and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), so he comes by this sort of thing more naturally than most jazz musicians; even on his acoustic recordings he has slyly referenced the hip-hop scene. Black Radio, however, is closer to neo-soul than to hip-hop: most of his collaborators are singers rather than rappers, and they often let fly over ornate instrumental backing. Much of the record seems stuck in Stevie Wonder’s early-seventies Innervisions era—weirdly compressed, murky sound and all—and the band ladles on the cheesy soul clichés. But there are some highlights: Erykah Badu’s sensual take on Mongo Santamaría’s “Afro Blue,” a vocoder-dominated arrangement of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Bey’s freestyling on the title track, and an emotional Musiq Soulchild/Chrisette Michele duet on “Ah Yeah.” Still, Glasper’s fleeting keyboard fills leave you hungry for more of what he’s crossing over from.
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