Glasper, Watts Display Comedic Chops at Yoshi’s

From Downbeat Magazine

February 13, 2012
By Yoshi Kato

In a press release for pianist-keyboardist Robert Glasper’s 2012 tour, Glasper’s sole performance with comedian-musician Reggie Watts was noticeable amid a flurry of Trio and Experiment dates. The duo’s Feb. 2 show at Yoshi’s Oakland was part of Watts’ four-day “Reggiedency” during the SF Sketchfest comedy festival.

Watts majored in jazz studies at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, and Glasper has proven himself comfortable in many musical environments. Needless to say, expectations were high going into the performance.

Glasper came out and performed a 12-minute solo piano piece that began Impressionistically, morphed into a lyrical statement and ended in bluesy territory. This bold move served as a palate-cleanser to quiet down the excited audience.

Glasper left temporarily, and Watts introduced himself using a couple of his trademarks: his imitations (in this case, a sensuous late-night DJ) and “fronting” tracks — samples and loops of his own vocals. The beatboxing, alt-comedy Bobby McFerrin created impressive layers of percussion and sound effects, including brushed snare, dripping water, wind and a foghorn. He then sang a wordless solo that he manipulated with effects into a dub-style, trip-hop passage.

“I think jazz is a spirit,” Watts said after Glasper joined him on stage for the first time. The comedian created another percussion bed as Glasper did some flirty, upper-register comping.

Glasper then joined the music-technology fun. The keyboardist shot off a quick riff, which Watts sampled and fashioned into a sequence line. Glasper added ambient synth patches as Watts engaged in some percussive singing, and then returned to the piano. Once there, he unleashed a surgical, precise solo that blossomed into a full-out assault.

On the following song, Watts created an old school hip-hop drum pattern on keyboard à la the Flecktones’ Roy “Futureman” Wooten. Glasper’s own comic instincts came in as he drew from his popular piano repertoire and responded with Mike Post’s “Theme From ‘Hill Street Blues,’” Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

As the set came to a close, Glasper truly revealed his comedic chops. He played emcee to Watts’ crooning by dropping some minimalistic words of encouragement — “Uh!” “Yo, check it out!” “Ah!” For the next number, he assumed the role of seducer, laying down such lines as, “I’ll go on YouTube and play some tunes for you” and “Fanta orange Fanta for you.”

During the main set finale, the two dropped into reggae mode. Watts went from singing to power-balladeering. Glasper’s piano solo ended with him playing stride-style and concluding with Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll.” The highlight of the encores was an ’80s electro-pop tune in the same style as Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” or Rick James’ “Superfreak.” Watts also executed one of his joyful dancing routines — something he had done the night before to a prerecorded track by the French electronic band Phoenix.

The concert was as brilliant in execution as it initially looked on paper. Hopefully, it was but the first of many Watts and Glasper pairings.

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