In an era when every headline carries some new horror or fresh worry, we need music that can clap back with immediacy, skill, and heart. We need a band so at home in its skin that it can play without ego and lead with love – artists whose very existence attests to resilience and hope. We need R+R=NOW, a supergroup assembled by Robert Glasper but functionally egalitarian, in no small part because its members are visionary players, composers, and producers on their own: Glasper on keys, Terrace Martin on synthesizer and vocoder, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synth and beatbox, and newcomer Justin Tyson on drums. You could try to count up the Grammys between them, but you’d be missing the point. This ABOUT THE AR TISTS P8 PERFORMANCES MAGAZINE Herbie Hancock genre-mashing outfit moves as one and, as their name reveals, with great purpose.
“R+R stands for ‘Reflect’ and ‘Respond’,” says Glasper. The idea came to him via Nina Simone while he was coproducing Nina Revisited, a companion album to the 2015 film What Happened, Miss Simone? Glasper adds, “When you reflect what’s going on in your time and respond to that, you can’t not be relevant. So ‘R’ plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW’.”
In that spirit, the debut album by R+R=NOW isn’t some wonky thesis on the state of the nation. It’s a raw document titled Collagically Speaking that seamlessly adheres neo-soul to future-funk, West Coast jazz of the moment to astral electronica, instrumental hip-hop to musique concrète, avant-garde to classical – these are single-take songs, written live in the room, that go wherever this formidable crew’s mood goes. The themes that bind it all together are both spoken and inferred: romantic love, universal love, systemic bigotry, the women’s movement, quiet power, wild creativity, personal loss and growth.
“Everyone in this band is a six-foot-tall black guy who didn’t come from an affluent background,” says Scott. “In order for us all to make it into that room together, we’ve had to go through some hell, fight for some things, build up a lot of armor, and do a lot ourselves to forge our realities, to become who we are. We’re all very aware of that, so anytime we get together, it’s a celebration.”
The origin of the group came in 2017, when Glasper was asked to put together an all-star line-up for a SXSW show at Empire Control Room. With his history – producing for everyone from Common to Herbie Hancock to Seun Kuti, reinterpreting Miles Davis and Simone, exploding jazz boundaries with his Black Radio series – the Houston-born auteur could be choosy. Martin, of L.A., was best known as a chief architect of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. NOLA native Scott turned heads with his socially charged 2017 Centennial trilogy, a comprehensive celebration of Africa’s sonic diaspora. Philly’s Hodge has scored for Spike Lee and music-directed for Maxwell. McFerrin, born in Brooklyn, is Bobby McFerrin’s oldest son and rolls with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder camp. Grand Rapids native Tyson plays with Esperanza Spalding. Their diverse wealth of experience melded with profound ease.
With Collagically Speaking wrapped, Glasper and Hodge were in Europe backing Yasiin Bey at a couple of gigs, when it dawned on him to ask the hip-hop legend to define love. His off-the-cuff answer was the perfect end cap to the project. If you’re wondering why a simple statement about love is R+R=NOW’s parting statement in a time that’s as divisive, hateful, and pained as ours often seems to be, well, Martin explains it best: “Every day I’m enraged by what I see, hear, and read about. We could’ve made something angry, but you’ll never beat hate with hate. I stay on the path to love because it’s the only thing I can use to destroy the darkness.”