The most star-studded month in Los Angeles is without a doubt February. Between the Grammys and the Oscars, entertainment industry parties pop up in nearly any room that can accommodate a stage and a bar. On Feb. 4, Capitol Records’ famed Studio A served as the setting for an intimate performance by the Robert Glasper Experiment to celebrate their Grammy nominations (Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Jesus Children” and Best R&B Album for Black Radio 2) and to announce Blue Note Records’ new partnership with Sonos, manufacturers of wireless high-fidelity sound systems.
Because Blue Note has been producing sounds for 75 years, it only makes sense that they would move into the realm of merchandise and machinery. The Sonos Blue Note Play:1 is the result. The limited-edition speaker is equipped with access to numerous Blue Note-approved playlists that have the potential to be updated and diversified. Wireless speakers have become a tremendous market in recent years with most of them attempting to blend in with other stereo equipment. This tasteful deviation from those norms gives the Sonos device a distinct charm; plus, it has enough wattage to fill a living room.
It would take quite a few Bluetooth speakers to fill the Captiol Records Building. The cylindrical tower has been an instantly recognizable fixture of the Hollywood skyline since it was built in 1956. It was even more striking on Feb. 4 because it was bathed in blue. Multiple shades of blue lit up the building to honor Blue Note Records’ legacy from 1939 to present day.
The Robert Glasper Experiment is one of the highest-profile acts of the current Blue Note Records roster. They played for over an hour on a small, low stage to a crowd that was equally divided between rapt attention and networking chatter. Naturally, the sound in the room was commanding. Electric bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg took full advantage of the floor-rattling potential with an unyielding barrage of machine-gun funk. A crisp telepathy can pass through the quartet, capable of stretching out into the ether or stopping on a dime.
Glasper spent the night seated at a bank of keyboards, conjuring synth pads with his left hand and lithe soulful lines with his right on a Fender Rhodes. But it was saxophonist/keytarist Casey Benjamin who could have easily been mistaken for the leader. Between his vibrant reddish pink top-knot and unflinching grin, Benjamin attracted a lot of the attention. His ferocious horn and intergalactic vocoder-driven come-ons were just as memorable as his sense of style.
A few guests managed to attract more of the crowd’s attention. Vocalist Lalah Hathaway performed a simmering rendition of “Jesus Children” wherein bassist and actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner stepped up to contribute a somber spoken-word section addressing the Sandy Hook massacre. But the artist who prompted the most camera phones to be pointed toward the stage was rapper Q-Tip.
Dressed in black leather pants, a leather jacket, red sweatshirt and sunglasses, he worked hard at pumping up the small but enthusiastic crowd. At one point he brought up a young woman to serenade her with his A Tribe Called Quest hip-hop classic “Bonita Applebaum.” She was coy, awkward and charming.
Throughout Q-Tip’s short set, Glasper and company maintained a forceful pace, proving again a mastery of their unique blend of influences—jazz begets r&b begets soul begets hip-hop. The result is a distinctly here-and-now mash-up that always grooves and often impresses.