20 November 2009

Friday Album Cover: In My Element

Robert Glasper
In My Element

In a recent interview on Jason Crane's The Jazz Session, Robert Glasper said something that revealed the inherent trickiness in playing hip hop-flavored jazz:
"As far as I know, most people, you know, when they do do an electric album, it's after they finish doing their acoustic stuff and then they do an electric album."
At the risk of digging too deeply into one sentence from an hourlong interview, it seems like Glasper is implying that if you want to be taken seriously as a jazz musician, you have to start out by playing acoustic jazz. I will not argue with Glasper here, some people will still reflexively dismiss a musician who only plays fusion, and not any kind of straightahead postbop (those people were a convenient straw man to one side in the jazz wars of the 1980s and 1990s). Instead, what interests me is how this line of thinking can be extended to album art as well.

A while back, I examined a common template used on Blue Note album covers during the 1950s and 1960s, which I dubbed the "Blue Note Special." The cover to Glasper's In My Element features many characteristics of the Blue Note Special, including black-and-white photography, minimal text, the color blue, and a simple layout. That Glasper would reference such a classic design makes sense when considering the style of this album (which I would roughly classify as an adventurous postbop album) and his comment that jazz musicians often hew more closely acoustic jazz during the early stages of their careers. It is as if Glasper wanted to make sure we know that he is both referencing and updating a jazz tradition. In this case, the art, and the album itself, manage to deftly point forward while referencing a revered tradition: the classic Blue Note album covers of the 1950s and 1960s and the adventurous hard bop that filled the label's catalogue during that era.

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