‘Our gigs are open air and go ahead come rain or shine’ is a statement on the Somerset House website and the recent heatwave that blessed the UK ended abruptly, bringing the kind of rain that told you it was here to stay.
This run of thirteen concerts of the Summer Series saw the Grammy winning composer, keyboard player and record producer Robert Glasper bring his “Experience” to the live stage. He is known for creating some of the most influential music of recent times. He has worked with an array of talented musicians and scored the soundtrack for the movie Miles Ahead, documenting the life of Miles Davis.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano opened the show with a set any fan of the main act would be pleased with. A humble approach with himself, accompanied by a drummer and a smooth vocal delivery similar to Ninja Tune artist Jordan Rakei.
The Robert Glasper Experiment casually took to the stage, with Glasper humouring the audience, band members and himself. In centre position stood Casey Benjamin, who is as much a magician as he is a musician, conjuring-up beautiful emotions as he plays saxophone, vocoder or keyboard. The subtle keys of Big Girl Body begin and so come the fluttering symbols. A hit on the snare from equally skilful Justin Tyson and we’re-off. This song is a definite showcase for the band, displaying how they truly blend into one sound and the showcase has only just begun. The rain is still falling and Somerset House is fairly full of fans clad in waterproof ponchos, holding umbrellas, determined that the weather is not going to end their night early.
Vocal trio LeSharVu, featuring two of the voices behind Basement Jaxx, compromising of LaDonna Harley Peters, Sharlene Hector and the incomparable Vula Malinga are invited to the stage. Resting over the mesmerising track Cherish The Day, they must have consumed 10 or more minutes lacing through the song, only pausing for Guitarist Mike Severson to lay some electricity. All three singers have extensive careers with major artists, their own material holds critical acclaim and they rock every time guaranteed.
Next-up UK neo-soul legend Omar joins The Experiment to perform Worries from their 2013 album Black Radio 2, that originally featured Detroit’s Dwele. Omar brought his sweet melodic signature ad-libs to the song, giving thanks to the fans. He and Glasper are no strangers, with Glasper guesting on Omar’s 2017 release Love In Beats.
Stories of Bill Withers brought more warmth and humour to a wet night as Glasper brought Corrine Bailey Rae to the stage and performed Lovely Day. With her soft voice, she received cheers of joy at every opportunity the fans could find.
Before you could wipe the rain from your face another guest appears, joining what has built up to an evening where Glasper seems to of collected some of, if not all the UK’s brightest gems to display. Laura Mvula proceeded to own the song Calls, bringing the audience to an obvious level where you felt the show had peaked and your fine with it. Sure you’d love them to play all night, but that’s a whole lot of neo-soul-jazz fusion of excellence to consume in one hit.
The rain kept on coming, but the crowd were not fazed. I looked to my left and notice some fashionistas I’d seen on social media, it’s London, that’s normal. Then in some form of surreal ‘this is the perfect gig and it’s pissing down with rain moment’, I look to my right and I’m shaking hands with Afrobeat royalty Seun Kuti. A special moment I’m still trying to comprehend.
The show settled slightly, Glasper asked the audience if they minded them playing ‘some Dilla shit’, in a homage to the late great hip hop producer Jay Dee, who is noted for influencing The Experiments work. As did the DJ who played Dilla beats in-between songs. Glasper continues to humour the crowd, teasing them about a rapper he has to come out on stage and rap for them. ‘He was pretty wack when I heard him, so hopefully he’s been practising’. More keys and this time for those that know Jay Dee’s music, recognition crept-up quickly and there it was Thelonius from the classic hip hop album by Common, Like Water For Chocolate .
The beat dropped, stage left, Chi-town rapper himself Common strolled onto the stage and the crowd went wild. The track quickly became a freestyle rap in original hip hop fashion, incorporating the environment and mentioning the much-needed umbrellas, which were raised high and bouncing. Again, keys, could it get any better, probably Common’s most notable track The Light and he calls LaSharVu back to the stage to grace it with some harmony.
If you don’t get the chance to see The Robert Glasper Experiment, make the chance happen and definitely don’t cancel just because it’s raining.
Live Review & Photography by Nosa Malcolm at Summer Series @ Somerset House 11th July 2017