Monday, April 30, 2012

Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society

Esperanza Spalding (bass)
Radio Music Society (Concord Music; 2012)

Now that I've spent the last year absorbing the music of Esperanza Spalding, I have to say you might not have expected the transformation that her music gone through. But you would be impressed with the muscularity and maturity of writing over the course of the last four records.

From the Brazilian influence of Junjo and Esperanza to the fully functional concept of Chamber Music Society; her performances have  been bolder and more confident. The latest, Radio Music Society now moves her to a different level in the more popular audience view. It's a massive achievement and strong step forward.

Sounding more like Soul-jazz and R&B than even its predecessor, Radio Music Society really knocked me out. Spalding's vocals dominate this setting more than her bass but that's okay. You get a taste of that with the opener, "Radio Song" which declares this outing will be a different beast altogether. The thumping beats, slow funk lines and chanting that--"this song's the one"--make the statement that this session is more for popular consumption.

"Black Gold" is probably the anthem piece here. A midtempo piece discussing how Black people should stand proud. While lyrically it speaks to the Black American consciousness, it can easily be directed to everyone as a sign of inspiration. Lionel Loueke's personal and bluesy guitar work add just the right tone and reflectiveness that make "Black Gold" very striking.

"Hold On Me," a more classic big band sultry ballad seems to work better than I originally thought. Janice Scroggins leads the line here with some work on the keys that joins sweetly next to Spalding's lovely vocal delivery.

"Smile Like That" has shades of 70's soul jazz records. Spalding's bass is more prominent in the mix and Leon Genovese adds a groovy bit on the fender rhodes to make the sound very organic. Gilad Hekselman's guitar forces a rock treatment into the mix but it doesn't become overbearing. An interesting closing number to an album that is very diverse and bold.

Everyone may argue the merits or talent of this young bass player/composer. I've accepted this as a Soul Jazz record not a contemporary jazz piece, and I have been solidly convinced - She is the real deal.

Built on a slew of themes, Radio Music Society may not be many folks cup of tea on the jazz side. It's definitely a strong follow up and well deserving of the positive attention from the wider musical public. And if this is the entry point for some to jazz so be it. It's a great way to start. Highly Recommended.

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