at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

Music is Deeper than Philosophy: Robert Glasper Trio

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on March 1, 2010

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a show at the Regatta Bar featuring the Robert Glasper Trio.  Already, I sense the futility of trying to write about such an experience.  How does one even begin to write about something so inherently subjective?  Music, after all, is experienced in a way that is supposed to provoke emotion and imagination.  Even if there is a singer who spews lyrics at you, the very fact that these words are drenched in tone, rhythm and cadence makes it something uniquely higher than the content one can reasonably decipher.  In short, music is supposed to be felt, not reasoned.  That said, I will attempt to do exactly what is against that.

The dynamic trio, featuring the revolutionary Chris Daddy Dave on drums and the scholarly Vicente Archer on bass, grooved furiously, gently, and playfully.  I was utterly blown away by both the caliber of their musicianship, but also their reach to draw in the ordinary listener.  While working out complex rhythmic and harmonic concepts, they also knew when to settle down into a deep groove (signified each time by the synchronized head bobbing fluttering through the room).  In short, they were fresh, hip and accessible.

But rather than fully diving into the intricacies of the night (something I probably can’t do anyways because it’s all memory, factual or constructed), I want to talk about what I felt and what I thought.

I have a weird obsession with Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  It’s a simple, ordinary art-form that uses everyday materials that you would probably pass on the street: flowers, branches, stems, etc.  One takes those ordinary materials and arranges them in a particular way in order to provoke the beautiful and the joyful.  For example, if one has three flowers to work with, one must arrange them in such a way that each looks most happy.  In essence, the Ikebana artist is not an “artist” in the popular sense of the word (one who fashions, manipulates, creates out of blankness), but rather is a curator of sorts.  A museum curator manages different works and aligns them in such a way that presents a mood.  The curator is perhaps one that arranges space in between different works.  In a similar sense, Ikebana is just that: the art of managing space.  One must place these raw material objects next to each other in a way that displays the right amount of room.  These empty spaces are meant to convey the sense of movement.  Yea, soak that in.  The sense of movement.  Whatever that means to you, at the very least, it sounds dope.

So in a random way, but also not really… I just thought about Ikebana for a large part of the night.  It was just a trio.  So even physically speaking, there was a lot of empty room in between each other.  And musically speaking, each player gave the other just enough room to be themselves and to express what they felt the music was saying to them.  Now of course, it’s what happened in between these players… and in between these musical expressions that made the show exciting.  The easiest musician to point out was the drummer.  As the bass laid down low and simple patterns, the drummer would shuffle, almost in a schizophrenic way, through various rhythmic ideas.  Some samba here, funk there… and dilla everywhere.  He understood time so well… that he made it elastic.  Right before our very ears, he created beautiful, rhythmic dissonance.  And to me, it was that constant searching that moved me.  That posture of loving the present groove, but also simultaneously letting go in search for the next one.  This is jazz at its highest: not a musical style, but a disposition.

As the drums would flair, Glasper was right there on the keys… coating and interlocking with the rhythms.  It was a perpetual conversation.  It was pure vibe.  You go where the music goes.  Or in more accessible terms, you talk to each other without an agenda.  You let each voice build the feelings of the moment.  This was a communal affair.

What I love about Ikebana is that those empty, in-between spaces are inviting.  They ask us as viewers to imaginatively engage.  Those spaces give us a sense that something dynamic is happening.  They are still and subtle rooms exploding with rhythmic vibrancy.  Or in other words, they give us a sense of life.  And it is exactly those spaces, the ways that they provoke us, that allows infinite room for engagement and creativity.  This is what the trio did for me, for the room… and probably for each other.  They created beautifully dissonant spaces that treaded in between genres and styles.  And if I can be presumptuous for a second, it is probably because they know that those spaces are where the fresh and the hip emerge.  After all, is not jazz about that very space?  Is not jazz about the sense of movement?  Jazz is about dialogue.  It is about individuals engaging in authentic, harmonious expression… together.  A lesson for democracy right?

Jazz is not genre.  It is a method, an approach.  It is about loving the moment… being in it, dialoguing with all that is around it.  It is also about wholly letting go of that which you love.  And it is about doing that over and over and over again.

The last tune of the night was Glasper’s FTB (I think).  As the band settled into the pocket, Glasper hit play on his ipod.  The house speakers wavered as three speeches shot through: MLK’s “We Shall Overcome”, Obama’s election night speech, and a snippet of Cornel West.  The room was silent.  It was a breathing silence.  History, vision, hope… all threaded together with the struggle.  And most importantly, the sense of the work to continually be done.

Obama’s voice ceased.
The band faded.

And a voice…
Music is deeper than philosophy.  In the end, we finite creatures, we don’t have a language or even a linguistic eloquence that can begin to be fully truthful to the experiences that we have the short time we’re here in time and space,” says Cornel West.

We need sounds, we need tones, we need silence in between notes.

The sense of movement.

Love it.

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8 Responses

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  1. jaron said, on March 1, 2010 at 08:14

    Seriously great post, Chuck. Can’t wait to dialogue with you this weekend, bro.

  2. jack said, on March 1, 2010 at 17:45

    I see u, Chucky! lol I appreciate your seeing a correlation between Ikebana and this trio. They are definitely three separate entities, voices… they were all able to speak the way they speak and still sound as if they were playing together. Definitely a very artistic show, not just musical.

    see u soon, bro!

  3. Dan said, on March 2, 2010 at 20:18

    Great thoughts man.

    Wouldn’t you say though that for some people, music is at least partially about reason?

  4. Charles said, on March 3, 2010 at 02:22

    totally, dan.

    what i was trying to get at was that music should always be felt. in fact, it quite literally is a physical sensation if we want to be technical. but also that reason is something that is always tinged with the element of reflection. it is something that happens after the fact. whereas music… as it relates to tone, cadence, rhythm, etc…. is of the moment and the immediate.

    so i’m definitely not saying that reason is unnecessary. theory is necessary as a systematizing process that can open up new creative, harmonic possibilities and the like. but i think at the heart of it, if i can argue so, music is always felt… and should be encountered in a such a sensual way. it really is in allowing oneself to get lost in the moment that music can take on an imaginative element, wholly of its own.

    at least… that’s what i think.

  5. william james said, on March 7, 2010 at 02:12

    but is it correct to use the phrase, “wholly on its own,” as if the music, on it’s own, affected the feeling? perhaps the sequence of events, i.e. the sound, then the feeling, only seems to be the case. but on more careful reflection, couldn’t we say sometimes music affects a thought first, which then produces the feeling? for example, joe walks into a concert full of melancholy music with thoughts of depression. but sally walks into the concert with thoughts of the quiet beauty of life. in virtue of the probability that joe will walk out feeling even more depressed and sally, more subdued by the beauty of life, couldn’t we conclude that music first acts upon our thoughts, perhaps enhances them, thus producing the feeling? i’m not sure if i’m responding to any arguments you’re making, but here are some thoughts anyway.

  6. william james said, on March 7, 2010 at 02:14

    but is it correct to use the phrase, “wholly on its own,” as if the music, on it’s own, affected the feeling? perhaps the sequence of events, i.e. the sound, then the feeling, only seems to be the case. but on more careful reflection, couldn’t we say sometimes music affects a thought first, which then produces the feeling? for example, joe walks into a concert full of melancholy music with thoughts of depression. but sally walks into the concert with thoughts of the quiet beauty of life. in virtue of the probability that joe will walk out feeling even more depressed and sally, more subdued by the beauty of life, couldn’t we conclude that music first acts upon our thoughts, perhaps enhances them, and then produces the feeling? i’m not sure if i’m responding to any arguments you’re making, but here are some thoughts anyway.

  7. VyVy said, on March 7, 2010 at 19:20

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
    beautiful.

  8. su said, on March 14, 2010 at 22:07

    happened to come across your site through your profile in iamkoreanamerican.com. just wanted to let you know that i really enjoy your blog. this entry gave me the warmest feeling.. the ikebana analogy is simply poetic.

    i happen to be a jazz musican in a 3 piece group. it’s really hits me close to home what you say about space.. how, by nature, jazz musicians play together but separately.
    jazz is a disposition.. how true

    thanks again for sharing your voice.. truly enlightening


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