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Live Today (2013)

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Robert Glasper

Bassist and composer Derrick Hodge's life thus far has been spent absorbing, studying, and playing all kinds of music: from gospel and classical to hip-hop, Philly, and neo-soul; from post-bop and modern jazz to cinema music. Live Today, his debut for Blue Note, reflects his career experience -- working with Mulgrew Miller, Terrence Blanchard, Stefon Harris, Common, Jill Scott, Q-Tip, Maxwell, and the Robert Glasper Experiment, composing film scores, etc. -- which has resulted in a rarified musical vision. Hodge's self-produced album is a sprawling hour-long set that displays a mercurial, adventurous aesthetic which is as disciplined as it is fluid and welcoming. His production here is polished, not slick; it frames and colors music that is purposely raw and kinetic -- most of the album was composed weeks before recording -- and preserves moments of unplanned inspiration. Opener "The Real" embodies almost everything at once. Commencing with samples, loose percussion, and tight kit work from Chris Dave, a vampish melody from keyboardist James Poyser emerges and gradually invites a horn section (Keyon Harrold, trumpet; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone; Corey King, trombone), turntables, synths, and Hodge playing electric and acoustic basses. It's a groover; equal parts contemporary and post-bop jazz, and funky neo-soul. On "Message of Hope," Hodge plays a nearly hummable melody in the upper register of his electric, accompanied by drummer Mark Colenburg and Travis Sayles on keyboards. The bass solo builds on the repetitive vamp frenetically, becoming an encounter with jazz-rock. Common rhymes breezily and soulfully on the jazzy hip-hop of the title track, with Glasper's instantly recognizable, mysterious acoustic and Rhodes pianos, and Dave's martial, in-the-pocket drumming with Hodge moving underneath to push at the tune's edges until they its out. "Dances with Ancestors" is a nocturnal ballad with numerous interlocking parts from various keyboards, killer breakbeats, a post-bop horn chart, and Hodge's bass interludes woven through to tie it together. "Anthem in 7" is a syncopated, dazzling, bass-driven groover that embodies dubstep, contemporary jazz, and neo-soul. "Holding On to You," a nearly straight-ahead folk-pop number, features vocalist/guitarist Alan Hampton, and is adorned only by the leader's upright bass and his arrangement for the American String Quartet. They remain on the haunting "Solitude," with pianist Aaron Parks on top, and Dave keeping slippery time; Hodge solos around the entire frame, becoming something approaching a singing voice. On the public domain Christian hymn, "Doxology (I Remember)," the bassist bows his upright on the melody, accompanied by Sayles' B-3 sounding like church organ. Closer "Night Vision," on which Hodge plays all instruments, is the last of several interludes interspersed among the formal tunes all over the set, denoting the album's various sections. For all its exploration and diversity, Live Today might be a cipher, were it not for Hodge's intense focus that reins the entire sprawl into a provocative, utterly engaging whole. ~ Thom Jurek