“The jazz community kind of kills the alive to praise the dead,” Robert Glasper told The Times in a 2012 interview for his album “Black Radio.”
In addition to being successful enough to spawn a sequel, that record forged a path through jazz, R&B and hip-hop so inviting that a number of albums released by his contemporaries the last few years could be filed into the genre “post-Glasper.”
At the time of the interview, Glasper was bemoaning the jazz scene’s addiction to celebrating its past at the expense of its future. So who better to lead a new album-length tribute to Miles Davis in “Everything’s Beautiful,” a record in which Glasper attempts to honor the late master while keeping both feet grounded in the here and now?
It’s a delicate balancing act not dissimilar from the one attempted earlier this year with “Miles Ahead,” a much-anticipated Davis biopic led by Don Cheadle that had its moments but bore only a glancing resemblance to Davis’ life — particularly with regard to the surprising amount of gunplay. (That’s Glasper, by the way, at the keyboard with Cheadle’s Davis and the real-life Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter in the film’s odd if well-meaning coda.)
Glasper fares better here, however, partly because he seldom tries to join the countless albums that have attempted to meet Davis’ music head-on and instead primarily views his rich archive as raw material.
This can be as much as dropping a reverb-soaked sample of Davis’ trumpet from the 1971 album “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” to run with Stevie Wonder’s harmonica in “Right on Brotha” or as little as his parched whisper to carry the hook between Ledisi and guitarist John Scofield in the funk-heavy “I’m Leaving You.”
Glasper’s sparkling keyboard briefly takes center stage during “Milestones,” the closest thing to a straightforward cover here, and though “Silence Is the Way” mostly keeps its “In a Silent Way” source material hidden, British singer-songwriter Laura Mvula carries the spirit of the track beautifully with a haunting, echo-laden vocal.
Other efforts are less successful. Australia’s Hiatus Kaiyote’s breezy “Little Church” goes on too long and adds little to the ghostly original, and the canned dance beat behind “Right on Brotha” sounds left over from a ‘90s acid jazz compilation.
Still, Glasper’s offered an interesting, genre-skipping snapshot of what Davis’ legacy of exploration means to him, and kept his own vision very much alive in the process.