After the phenomenal success last year of the opening instalment of Black Radio, Robert Glasper (inset, below) is back with another 12 tracks and an equally impressive list of guest collaborators. Like its predecessor, the album is a must-buy for anybody with an ear for what we might loosely call ‘soul’.
A jazz pianist by trade, the Texan’s first genre-blending offering pipped R Kelly to the Grammy for best R&B album. Award-givers and journalists alike struggled to get this irregular-shaped peg into a round pigeon-hole, but an eclectic mix of tunes combined Glasper’s jazz sensibilities with contributions from soul and hip-hop luminaries. It’s not as if this merging of black styles hasn’t been done before, most famously by Guru, and his Jazzmatazz project, in the 1990s, but Glasper raised it to a new level. This was more dovetail than some of the buttjoints that went before.
Black Radio 2 continues the process, albeit with a slightly more homogoneous sound than its predecessor. It’s also a bit easier on the ear, possibly due to the absence of the brilliant, boundary-pushing antics of Glasper’s long-term drummer, Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave. His replacement, Mark Colenburg, has a tendency to play it all a bit straighter.
They’ve also let a white man in the studio for this one. Patrick Stump, of Fall Out Boy, joins rapper Common on ‘I Stand Alone’, an epic tune that could go all the way to the singles charts. Another standout is ‘Calls’, featuring Jill Scott. She joins an impressive cohort of female vocalists that also includes Emeli Sandé and Norah Jones. Familiar males include Snoop, showing how his laidback delivery can still be effective; and Malcolm Jamal Warner (so that’s what happened Theo Huxtable from The Cosby Show!) performing the album’s only cover version, a slightly cloying take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Jesus Children Of America’.
With such an all-star cast, there would always be a fear that the final results would be patchy. Not in the hands of Robert Glasper, however. A genius of our times.
There was enormous excitement in Cork Opera House when, for the first time, live from the Metropolitan in New York, we witnessed Luc Bondy’s controversial 2009 production of Puccini’s Tosca. Although the singing and orchestral playing was wonderful, the production had many distasteful elements. I had hoped that the Met had toned down these elements. It has not, and the singing is not at all as good as it was.
Bondy sets Act I in what might well be a red-brick factory interior (rather than the church of Sant’ Andrea Della Valle), with no altar or Lady Chapel in view, and dominated by a lewd painting that is supposed to represent Mary Magdalen. Act II, supposed to take place in Baron Scarpia’s luxurious apartment in the Farnese Palace, is still set in what could be a railway station waiting-room, apart from a few sofas scattered around, and occupied by irrelevant, gaudily dressed whores. None of the Bondy/Peduzzi (set designer) changes contributes anything to the tension of the melodrama. Indeed, Scarpia’s disdain for the superfluous harlots lessens the effect of his boasts about his cruel and lustful nature.
Luckily, the physically imposing Georgian baritone, George Gagnidze, is a convincing Scarpia and, even though he has no memorable aria to sing, his huge voice and presence dominate the performance. Floria Tosca’s Empire-line dress made Scarpia’s attempt to rape her, and her stabbing of him, most realistic.
Patricia Racette’s acting is convincing and, for the most part, her singing is very beautiful, despite some wayward intonation. Roberto Alagna, however, bawled his way through Act I and we had to wait till ‘E lucevan le stelle’, in Act III, for any beauty in his singing.
The orchestral playing was magnificent, if slightly overpowering, and the policemen, Spoletta and Sciarrone, were brilliantly menacing. John Del Carlo was a beautifully even-voiced, slightly scatty Sacristan, and the Te Deum of the chorus was quite magnificent, both vocally and dramatically.