Robert Glasper’s Houston Benefit Concert Channeled Electric Freestyle Sessions For A Good Cause

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When Grammy and Emmy Award-winning pianist and producer Robert Glasper wanted to put on a benefit concert to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Harvey, he hit the phones and came up big. A small constellation of stars from Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even London descended on the Troubadour in West Hollywood last night for a good cause, and the packed house was treated to a display of fine musicianship, vocal virtuosity, and most importantly, caring generosity for the people of Houston affected by the storm.

Hosted by Glasper’s high school friends and fellow entertainers Bryan Michael Cox and LeToya Luckett, the show had a loose, almost freestyle feel. Artists roamed the crowd, rubbing shoulders with fans and having their own fan moments as their peers took the stage. Lupe Fiasco geeked out over Herbie Hancock, Estelle was charmed by BJ The Chicago Kid’s fluid performance of “Turning Me Up,” and Glasper himself hovered just to the rear of the stage, gleefully taking it all in as much as directing the event alongside his Houstonian companions.

Estelle opened the evening with a soaring performance of “Conqueror,” followed by a sensuous rendition of her hit single “Come On Over” and even danced with a fan onstage. Glasper and his five-piece band, including noted Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist and producer Terrace Martin, held court for a dazzling improv set before Glasper relinquished his seat to jazz piano legend Herbie Hancock, who has been on tour with Martin this past summer.

The chemistry between these players was absolutely electric and swept up the crowd in a vibe that was celebratory, but charged with an urgency born of response to crisis. Hurricane Harvey’s devastating effects have been felt deeply by its citizens, even here in Los Angeles; Glasper organized the show in Hollywood because Houston is simply not ready to host one yet.

Each artist and entertainer in West Hollywood seemed to want to transmit the energy from that room all the way back to Houston. BJ The Chicago Kid bounced and bobbed his way through his set, nailing his falsetto take on “Send It On” and whipping through his “Turning Me Up” with fervor. Saxophonist Kamasi Washington maintained the wave with another improv set alongside vocalist Lalah Hathaway, as Lupe Fiasco took to the mic with a brilliant, pyrotechnic display of freestyle raps and call-and-response chants that brought the crowd themselves into the performance.

The finale featured one last performance by Hancock, Washington, and Martin, joined onstage by Lupe and Hathaway. I think it would be safe to say that the art forms of both jazz and rap elevated one another last night, as the vocal quality of the MC became yet another instrument in the composition. Thanks in no small part to Lupe’s prodigious skill with freestyle rap, he was able to blend into the improvisation of these jazz legends, weaving in intricate, spur-of-the-moment rhymes with pieces of his more well known hits such as “Kick, Push,” then dancing and fading into the background as the next instrument took precedence.

As a fundraiser, Help Houston Heal, was no less than a rousing success, but as art, it was truly something magical. While it’s easy to say that such an experience would be difficult to replicate — impossible, even — due to its off-the-cuff execution, in truth, capturing that lightning in a bottle was a feat in itself. Only Glasper’s network of contacts throughout the entertainment industry could pull together such an array of talent and put them in a room with such a familial atmosphere. It was like going to church, or rather, the church picnic. It was fellowship as much as it was fun, and in service of benefitting others, it was much-needed medicine, the joyous peace after the storm.

In case you missed our earlier interview with Glasper about his benefit, recent Emmy win, and so much more, check it out below.

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