THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “In October 2018, Robert Glasper settled into the Blue Note club in N.Y.C. for a month-long residency — several nights of which featured the new dream team collective R+R=NOW with Glasper on keys, Terrace Martin on synthesizer, vocoder, and alto saxophone, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer, and Justin Tyson on drums. The band had recently released their debut album Collagically Speaking and the music had already taken on expansive new dimensions in concert as evidenced on R+R=NOW Live, a thrilling live recording with standout tracks including Respond, Change of Tone, Resting Warrior, and a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s How Much a Dollar Cost.
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. You could try to count up the Grammys between them but you’d be missing the point. This 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? Facing backlash for her politics, Simone was asked, more or less, why she didn’t just shut up and sing. Her answer: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” 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. Guest voices get caught in that mix as well: actors Omari Hardwick and Terry Crews; actress Amanda Seales; MCs Stalley and yasiin bey (fka Mos Def); and singers Amber Navran (of Moonchild) and Goapele. 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.”