Friday, August 13, 2010

Esperanza Spalding's startling new album, Chamber Music Society

Esperanza Spalding — vocalist, bassist (upright and electric), and composer — is a burgeoning jazz phenomenon.

Over the weekend, you can listen to her new album, Chamber Music Society, on NPR's music site. (It's going to be taken down once the album is released, on Tuesday, August 17.)

Lately I've been listening every day to her breakthrough album, Esperanza.

The jazz I usually listen to is almost all instrumental. But Esperanza Spalding alone is making me think I should be listening to a lot more jazz vocalists. My one reservation about this is that I anticipate being disappointed by anyone else in comparison with her. I don't know enough about jazz singers to say this with any authority, but she seems to be sui generis.

Considering how much acclaim she's received based on the Esperanza album (performing at the White House twice and at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony — not to mention ranking #27 on my list of the best songs of the decade), Chamber Music Society is a bold departure. Here, for example, is a concert that starts with one of her songs from Esperanza, "I Adore You":

You can hear the contrast on her new album by, again, clicking on the NPR link. Many of her trademark sounds are still there, but her compositional style has become even more adventurous. And now there's a violin, viola, and cello. The strings aren't there as soothing background accompaniment or to signal a "classical cross-over." They're often dissonant and biting, a challenge to the fans of her last album.

Here, she tells the inspiring story of how she got started studying bass:

Here's a 2-part promotional mini-documentary about the recording of Chamber Music Society:

The NPR article says that soon (spring 2011), she'll be releasing another album with a similar title: Radio Music Society, "her funk-, rock- and hip-hop-infused paean to Top 40 radio." I have a feeling that Esperanza Spalding, unlike so many musical artists, is going to stay interesting for a long time.

(Photo of Esperanza Spalding by El Humilde Fotero del Pánico.)


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

A bassist friend of mine expresses awe at her skill in singing while playing bass -- a form of multitasking that Phil Lesh, who couldn't do it, called "a dark art."

John Althouse Cohen said...

As she says at the end of the first YouTube clip: "How 'bout that? Singing and everything!"