New Supergroup featuring Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin & Justin Tyson
In an era when every headline carries some new horror or fresh worry, we need music that can clap back with immediacy, skill, and heart. We need a band so at home in its skin that it can play without ego and lead with love – artists whose very existence attests to resilience and hope. We need R+R=NOW, a supergroup assembled by Robert Glasper but functionally egalitarian, in no small part because its members are visionary players, composers, and producers on their own: Glasper on keys, Terrace Martin on synthesizer and vocoder, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synth and beatbox, and newcomer Justin Tyson on drums. You could try to count up the Grammys between them but you'd be missing the point. This genre-mashing outfit moves as one and, as their name reveals, with great purpose.
"R+R stands for ‘Reflect' and ‘Respond'," says Glasper. The idea came to him via Nina Simone while he was co-producing Nina Revisited, a companion album to the 2015 film What Happened, Miss Simone? Facing backlash for her politics, Simone was asked, more or less, why she didn't just shut up and sing. Her answer: "an artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times." Glasper adds: "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'." In that spirit, the debut album by R+R=NOW isn't some wonky thesis on the state of the nation. It's a raw document titled Collagically Speaking that seamlessly adheres neo-soul to future-funk, West Coast jazz of the moment to astral electronica, instrumental hip-hop to musique concrète, avant-garde to classical – these are single-take songs, written live in the room, that go wherever this formidable crew's mood goes.
A fellowship is felt throughout Collagically Speaking. It's in the fluidly shifting tempos of the 10-minute epic "Resting Warrior," which contrasts skittering drums and eerie effects with regal horns and cool keys. And in the woozy soul of "Colors in the Dark," where Martin's robo-coo floats like a hallucination over a lush scene that crests in a sudden burst from Tyson. Or in the zero-gravity atmosphere of "Respond," which spins out amid echoes of crying instruments, tethered to Earth only by Hodge's warm bass. Scott says a song would "sprout off one idea and go through eight iterations in a couple minutes." But some cover so much territory they split into two, like "Awake to You," a joyful blend of quiet storm and boom-bap that morphs into the halftime, decidedly blue and trippy "By Design."
Guest voices get caught in that mix as well: actors Omari Hardwick (Power) and Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Expendables); actress Amanda Seales (Insecure); MCs Stalley and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def); and singers Amber Navran (of Moonchild) and Goapele. The themes that bind it all together are both spoken and inferred: romantic love, universal love, systemic bigotry, the women's movement, quiet power, wild creativity, personal loss and growth.