Whenever I listen to Robert Glasper, I, too, feel the imprint of pianist Ahmad Jamal. From the percussive nature of their play to the succinct and expedient style in which they showcase each and every note, there is a genuine interconnectivity between the two, constructed in sound. If hip-hop samples Jamal in the present, surely they will be doing so with Glasper in the future. Some, in fact, have already tried—rather remarkably, I might add.
In introducing Glasper to individuals of my own twentysomething enclave, I almost instinctively turn to his memorable hip-hop reconstruction piece, the eponymous “J Dillalude.” Stringing together a melody of some of the producer’s finest compositions, I consider this to be yet another significant bridge between hip-hop and jazz.
Today, however, I’ve found another from the Glasper repertoire to be in heavy rotation. It speaks to a lineage that connects Ahmad Jamal to Thelonious Monk and De La Soul shortly thereafter. The convergence of these three is “Think of One.”
In theory, this is Glasper’s take on the Monk composition of the same name. Monk originally recorded the tune in 1953 with the assistance of Julius Watkins, Sonny Rollins, Percy Heath, and Willie Jones. Despite such a remarkable lineup, “Think of One” remains a widely overlooked record; an unfortunate reality as it marks one of the earliest instances of Monk playing the role of band leader. Regardless, the record is another exhibition of Monk’s genius.
The crux of Glasper’s reinterpretation is very much comparable to the original methodology of Monk. Intertwined within this narrative of jazz tradition is something slightly divergent, however. There is a point in which Glasper begins a study of music known to be familiar, but with an ambiguously clever touch, keeping the listener slightly out of reach. The song takes flight with an orthodoxy that would allow for even the most conservative of jazz listener to remain in tranquil bliss. But as time moves forward, we are introduced to what can either be heard as Ahmad Jamal’s “Swahililand” or De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High;” the former quite literally being the source material to the latter.
When J Dilla produced the titular single for De La Soul’s classic 1996 release, he, like so many others engaged the work of Jamal, making for a stirring indictment of hip-hop culture—sonically and lyrically. This is the text Glasper decides to play with as he explores the work of jazz elite Thelonious Monk, making for a cavalcade of musical history.
As I listen to Glasper’s cover of Monk, I can’t help but be enthralled by what I’m hearing. It’s clearly jazz, but something a bit more open-ended—slightly more accessible. This is a musical anthology in single track form. Situated in the middle of his album Double-Booked, the song quite literally connects Glasper, “the jazz man” to Glasper “the experimenter,” solidifying his role as a creator of great music, void of genre. Regardless of your position—the jazz aficionado, the hip-hop head, or simply a casual music listener—this is the sort of record that has the ability to draw you in. That, I believe, is the mark of timeless music.