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Robert Glasper Experiment: Jazz In Translation

Together, Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu pull together a cover of "Afro Blue" that's classy, smooth and modern.
Courtesy of the artist
Together, Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu pull together a cover of "Afro Blue" that's classy, smooth and modern.

Every day between now and March 16, Song of the Day will showcase a track by an artist playing the South by Southwest music festival. For NPR Music's full coverage of SXSW — complete with full-length concerts, studio sessions, blogs, Twitter feeds, video and more — visit And don't miss our continuous 100-song playlist, The Austin 100, which features much more of the best music the festival has to offer.

The Robert Glasper Experiment doesn't take the word "experiment" lightly: It's one of the rare projects willing to take on the task of reinventing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." As if that weren't enough of a challenge, Glasper manages to clear the hurdle of kitsch in the process.

That Nirvana cover isn't the only surprise on Glasper's new album, Black Radio, which features a remarkable arsenal of vocalists and MCs, including Mos Def, Bilal and Lupe Fiasco. One of the best performances, though, comes from the reigning queen of neo-soul, Erykah Badu.

Together, Badu and Glasper pull together a cover of the jazz standard "Afro Blue" that's classy, smooth and modern. Written by Mongo Santamaria and popularized by John Coltrane, the tune has a lot of history behind it. But none of the song's beauty is lost in its translation to the digital age.

Alongside a heavy hip-hop rhythm and some arranged flutes, Glasper's piano and Badu's voice find the perfect setting for "Afro Blue." Pleasant piano embellishments unfold as the song progresses, too, and the result proves that the characteristics of jazz can be filtered through modern sounds without losing what makes the genre great.

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Anthony Fantano
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