Much can be said for the stellar rise of Esperanza Spalding... she gravitated towards playing bass early in life, which led her to be the youngest faculty member (at age 20) of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. She became the first jazz musician ever to win a Grammy for "Best New Artist of the Year" in 2011, which caused a firestorm amongst Justin Bieber fans at the time. In the music world, she is a triple threat and I felt she was entitled to that Grammy, as she can stand alone as a composer, singer or bass player. She has put out four albums since 2005, and collaborated on more than 15 music projects with the likes of Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lavano, Stanley Clarke and Teri Lynne Carrington to name a few. [Text by Linda, photos by Shanna.]
Currently on a world tour promoting her newest album, 2012's Radio Music Society, she was in full force at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday last Saturday night, where she headlined with her 12-piece band.
Our first real cool evening of weather came with Esperanza. I arrived earlier in the evening to hear the last thunderous sounds of the Tia Fuller Trio. Fuller is an alto saxophonist and musical director of Spalding's musical tour as well as a badass seasoned player in her own right whose list of tours most notably includes her role as one of the all-women band that backed up Beyoncé on her "Sasha Fierce" tour.
But for Spalding, it was not a typical Saturday show, performing in front of vet jazz fans who didn't necessarily consider her highly conceptual, avant-garde style their cup of tea, which doesn't necessarily lend itself to casual listening. Spalding weaves together a tapestry of rock, jazz, blues and folk; fusion orchestra meets Frank Zappa meets Corrine Bailey Rae meets Manhattan Transfer meets something on Broadway like The Wiz. Esperanza herself is far outside the box and traditional lines for sure. Before her entrance, a huge boom box prop was placed on stage, a visual cue as her band created different "stations," tuning up and down the dial and mimicking the changing stations by performing different genres. Then Spalding strode out playing her Fender bass and joined them.
The setlist included mostly cuts off Radio Music Society. Spaulding scatted soliloquies, played a respectable electric bass, but she also delivered this strange dialogue through the show not unlike a solo improv act. Her upright sat on its side most of the night, but she did pick it up for a tune or two. I especially liked "Smile Like That," "Black Gold" and her closing piece, "Radio Song."
She's a wisp of a woman, but has a verve and boldness in this new approach to entertaining audiences. I found her music sophisticated, quite complex and unlike anything anyone else is doing right now, though the dialogue segment was a bit distracting and felt unnecessary amid the challenging musical landscape. Still, I think she is an innovator, a talented musician and composer who I look forward to hearing more from. Her band members could all play their tails off; orchestrations were layered with very tasty and edgy grooves and really beautiful harmonies. Being a female jazz musician myself, I was delighted to see Spalding joined by such a talented array of female players.
It was a huge undertaking with a 12-piece orchestra, and only once in a blue moon does an artist come along with the unique gifts Spalding possesses. Seeing her live was an unusual experience, in a good way, and a completely unexpected treat.
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.