You don’t always see seating at El Rey Theatre, but then again, the venue isn’t always hosting a legit jazz show either.

Fans weren’t sure what to expect from virtuosic pianist Robert Glasper when he stopped by LA Wednesday night. Many know him for his GRAMMY Award-winning Black Radio 1 and 2 releases, but those weren’t a very big part of his agenda this week. Instead, the focus was on his latest release, Covered, a collection of covers of songs by some of Glasper’s favorite artists recorded at Capitol Records in a jazz trio setting.

With the help of a few guests, a blistering rhythm section, and a great sense of humor, Robert Glasper turned El Rey on its side with a setlist of covers, a few originals, and jazz jams that gave way to breathtaking dynamics and chops.

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After a quick opening jam, Glasper addressed the audience in his dry and witty tone. He eased the audience’s curiosity with his casual style, surprisedly commenting on his DJ’s new haircut. He then asked, for the first of three or four times throughout the night, if anyone had his new record. Then he joked about how few people cheered and said everyone else would probably check it out on Spotify, a sad and realistic mockery of music’s current market. In response, he played a song that wasn’t on his new record at all, a cover of Prince’s “Sign Of The Times.”

The covers and originals all boasted similar themes, serious jazz from the piano, true melody and touch from bassist Vicente Archer, and frantic jazz fusion rhythms from drummer Damion Reid (who currently holds the distinction of delivering the best drum solo I’ve seen all year). Their playing really tied every song together, but each number had its own life, energy, and voice.

Another cover that doesn’t appear on the latest release came along with a special guest. Lalah Hathaway, daughter of the late Donny Hathaway, joined after Glasper’s comedic failed attempt at singing. The group gave an honest and soulful performance of Outkast’s “Prototype” that rivaled the original. Her warm and silky voice was a perfect complement to the tones the band created.

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Glasper’s sense of humor didn’t stop after his poor singing and went beyond little jokes made through the mic in between songs. The mark of a true jazz musician is being able to have your voice heard through your playing, and he did exactly that when his casual and playful way of joking came through in the tune “In Case You Forgot.”

The song started off with about five minutes of bebop piano that nodded to the great Thelonious Monk. After a few frantic notes, the rhythm section nailed a stop on a dime. The piano continued. After another few minutes he shifted from the fast tempo to several random covers, such as Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is,” and Cindi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” with the entire audience singing along. As soon as the covers finished, he immediately jumped back into the Monk-esque keys.

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After a slew of solos by every member of the band, covers, originals, the passing out of cigarettes to audience members, and an appearance by none other than Bilal, they wrapped up the night. Two solid hours of groundbreaking jazz that broke down and rebuilt the very concept of the artform framed an evening that will leave a touch of real beauty and ingenuity on the walls of El Rey for quite some time.

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Robert Glasper