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Jazz - Released March 4, 2016 | Concord Records

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
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Jazz - Released March 4, 2016 | Concord Records

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
On previous albums, Grammy-winning bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding dived into jazz standards, Brazilian rhythms, and sophisticated, harmonically nuanced R&B. But with her 2016 album, Emily's D+Evolution, she takes an entirely different approach. A concept album revolving around a central character named Emily (Spalding's middle name), Emily's D+Evolution is not a jazz album -- though jazz does inform much of the music here. Instead, Spalding -- who also co-produced the album alongside legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie) -- builds the release largely around angular, electric guitar-rich prog rock, kinetic, rhythmically rich jazz fusion, and lyrically poetic pop. Of course, Spalding's version of pop is never predictable, always harmonically inventive, and frequently imbued with as many improvisational moments as possible within the boundaries of a given song. But relative to her previous releases, this is still a significant shift. Helping to bring Emily's D+Evolution to life is a band Spalding put together specifically for this project, including guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Karriem Riggins, keyboardist Corey King, and others. Conceptually, the character of Emily represents Spalding as a young girl, and works as a conduit through which she explores and unpacks complex ideas about life, love, sex, race, education, and the creative process. While it would be reductive to call Emily's D+Evolution a retro album, Spalding's harmonic and melodic content and production aesthetics definitely have a '70s quality. Cuts like "Earth to Heaven" and "Noble Nobles" bring to mind the forward-thinking sound of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell's work with jazz artists like Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius, whose liquid bass style is an obvious antecedent to Spalding's approach here. While Spalding never sounds anything less than original on the album, part of the beauty here is in recognizing her inspirations and reveling in how she has made them her own. "Elevate or Operate" sounds like a serpentine Steely Dan melody, sung with Valkyrian agility over a strident, Dr. Dre-friendly militaristic beat. Similarly, "One" brings to mind Mitchell's soaring vocal style, set against a Greek chorus of harmonized backing vocals and accented by Stevens' cascading guitar lines, like something John McLaughlin would do with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Elsewhere, tracks like "Good Lava" and "Funk the Fear" reveal Spalding's swaggering, inner rock goddess and sound like a fantasy collaboration between Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. While Spalding has long been a virtuoso bassist and commanding, lithe vocalist, she's developed into a gifted songwriter with a poet's sense for imagistic, emotionally resonant lyrics. It's a formidable combination best represented here by the epic "Ebony and Ivy." Bookended with a machine-gun-fire spoken word poem, the song allows Spalding as Emily to explore a mythic childhood netherworld in which she ambitiously juxtaposes the joys of learning from the natural world and the desire for a formal education against historical notions of how science was, ironically, used to justify slavery. She sings, "It's been hard to grow outside/Growin' good and act happy/And pretend that the ivy vines/Didn't weigh our branches down." ~ Matt Collar
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 10, 2019 | Concord Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2008 | Heads Up

Bassist, vocalist, and composer Esperanza Spalding's eponymous release on Heads Up International is touted on the Concord Label Group's website as her debut recording. This is patently untrue. In fact, if it weren't for her actual debut , 2006's Junjo on Spain's Ayva imprint, this set may not have existed at all. Junjo showcased Spalding as a leader, playing in an acoustic trio with pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Francisco Mela singing wordlessly over bubbling Latin and Afro-Cuban melodies and rhythms. Though written by Brazilian legend Milton Nasciemento and featuring backing vocalists and additional percussion to the bass, piano, and drum format, Esperanza's opening track, "Ponta De Areia" resembles the sound and M.O. of the earlier album quite a bit. This is on purpose, as Spalding simply nods to one of the many places she comes from musically. The track, with its languid, nursery rhyme-like melody and beautifully understated instrumental accompaniment, gently opens the listener to an aural experience that's quite unlike anything else out there. Spalding sings in three languages here -- English, Spanish, and Portuguese -- she plays bass, does the arranging, and acts as her own producer on this wildly diverse and exceptionally well-executed set. How does a 23-year-old get all that control? Simple: she's a prodigy; she is a seasoned session player (she's worked with Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, and Patti Austin to name just three), and she's a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music. The ambition on display on Esperanza is not blind; it's deeply intuitive, and her focus brings out the adventure on the album in all the right ways. By a lesser musician, even attempting something like this would have been disastrous. A core band consisting of pianist Leo Genovese, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and drummer Otis Brown backs Spalding. She follows the Nasciemento cut with her own fingerpopping midtempo ballad "I Know You Know," where her crystal clear contralto walks a phrasing tightrope between near scat, classic jazz, and Latin soul singing. The layers of hand percussion and knotty pianism fill the middle as her bassline and drums hold down a constant skittering thrum for the lyrics to balance on. But she can write and sing straight ballads as well. "Fall In," a seemingly simple duet where her voice over Genovese's piano are the only ornaments, is a stellar example and also displays a very sophisticated and slippery sense of wordcraft and a gorgeous melodic sensibility. "I Adore You," featuring Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez in one of his two appearances on drums, offers another example of Spalding's wordless vocalizing; it is a popping Brazilian samba-cum-rhumba with a snappy backing chorus of Brown, Gretchen Parlato, and Theresa Perez. They help her move the smoking piano and the shuffling, time-shifting drums of Hernandez on the choruses. Spalding's bass part here is anything but basic, it's startling in its rhythmic and lyric invention as it adds another harmonic counterpart to the piano and percussive textures. New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison performs in one of his two guest spots on the provocative and sassy jazz tune "She Got to You." With a quick, even-burning tempo, there are traces of Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Blossom Dearie in Spalding's phrasing. For all of the hard-driving percussion and the track's boppish tempo, it is wonderfully accessible. "Precious," played with her trio (including some nice Rhodes work by Genovese) is like a mirror image; it's lithe, new-soul melody line flirts with jazz in the arrangement but stays on the pop side of the fence. If radio would get behind this it would be a monster. "Mela" is a wailing, post-bop instrumental with Hernandez on drums and guest Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. Check Spalding's bass solo here, it, like the tune, is a burner. In sum, Esperanza sounds like the work of a much older, more experienced player, singer, and songwriter. Spalding not only has these gifts in natural abundance but is disciplined in her execution as well. On this recording she seeks to widen her musical adventure at every turn, but she does it with such with taste, refinement, and a playful sense of humor that virtually anyone who encounters this offering will find not only much to delight in, but plenty to be amazed by as well. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2012 | Heads Up

Esperanza Spalding's fourth album, Radio Music Society (a companion piece to Chamber Music Society in name only) is one of enormous ambition -- polished production, sophisticated, busy charts, and classy songwriting -- that consciously juxtaposes neo-soul and adult-oriented jazz-tinged pop. It employs a stellar cast, largely of jazz musicians, to pull it off. She produced the set, with help from Q-Tip on a couple of numbers, and wrote all but two songs here: a cover of "I Can't Help It" (a Michael Jackson cover written by Stevie Wonder) and Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species." There are truckloads of players, including three different all-star drummers in Terri Lyne Carrington, Jack DeJohnette, and Billy Hart, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Lionel Loueke on "Black Gold" (which also contains his vocals and an appearance by the Savannah Children's Choir). Though Ms. Spalding takes most lead vocals, there are also duet appearances from Lalah Hathaway and Algebra Blessett. Backing vocalists include Gretchen Parlato (who also anchors a chorus on several tunes) and Leni Stern. The American Music Program horn section appears on three cuts. The highlights here include "Crowned & Kissed" (a Q-Tip co-production) with its rubbery bassline, contrapuntal horns, Leo Genovese's artful pianism, and Carrington's impeccable sense of swing that bridges funk, neo-soul, jazz, and hip-hop. "Radio Song" contains layered interpolated rhythms (again courtesy of Carrington), sparkling Rhodes piano, syncopated horns and backing chorus, Spalding's alto croon, and a taut, popping bassline. Lovano's saxophone adds a truly elegant and graceful dimension to "I Can't Help It." The charts on Shorter's tune (with lyrics by Spalding) illuminate what may have been the composer's intent all along -- and nod at Pastorius-era Weather Report simultaneously. DeJohnette's funky subtlety drives the knotty fingerpop of "Let Her," and Hart's trademark, shimmering cymbal work on "Hold on Me" complements Spalding's sultry vocal in retro bluesy pop -- it's one of only a couple of places on the record where she plays acoustic bass. While Radio Music Society may play better to younger pop audiences than more die-hard jazzheads, this program is so diverse and well executed -- despite a little overreaching -- it's anybody's guess. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2010 | Concord Records, Inc.

As evidenced by her self-titled 2008 debut, Esperanza Spalding is a quadruple threat as composer, bassist, singer, and producer. That album spent an astonishing 70 weeks on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart, and was the best-selling album by a new artist internationally for that calendar year. Given its critical and commercial success, a follow-up can exert so much pressure internally and externally, that an artist loses her/his focus and the end result is less than stellar. Not so with Chamber Music Society. Spalding has assembled an intriguing collection of tunes, is accompanied by stellar backing musicians -- drummer Terri Lynne Carrington, pianist Leonardo Genovese, and percussionist Quintino Cinalli with a pair of string players -- and guests that reveal her exquisite taste in both compositions and arrangements (the latter with intermittent help from Gil Goldstein). The album opens with a Spalding composition to illustrate William Blake's poem "Little Fly"; her vocal is understated yet fully articulate. She is backed only by her bass and a graceful, small, unintrusive string section. "Winter Sun" is a standout with its fingerpopping breaks and a melodic nu-soul vocal that touches on scat with astute syncopation, and features taut, imaginative bass and piano solos. It walks the line between modern jazz and adult contemporary R&B . On Esperanza, she covered Milton Nascimento's "Ponta de Areia." Here, she ups the ante by duetting with the Brazilian artist on her own "Apple Blossom," backed by strings and Richard Vogt's nylon-string guitar. Nascimento's trademark baritone is allowed considerable improvisational freedom that features his otherworldly falsetto. Her reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem" almost forgoes samba entirely in favor of a more classically disciplined duet vocal arrangement, as Spalding's voice and bass are accompanied only by Gretchen Parlato's divine vocal. Parlato also appears with wordless singing on "Knowledge of Good and Evil," in a breezy yet complex chart that underscores a deft harmonic interaction with the band. Spalding's arrangement of Dimitri Tiomkin's and Ned Washington's classic "Wild Is the Wind" features David Eggar guesting on cello and Genovese playing melodica, and combines jazz, tango, and classic pop. "What a Friend" combines contemporary and Rhodes-driven soulful electric jazz. Chamber Music Society is a more sophisticated offering than Esperanza. That said, with its musical diversity, stylistic panache, humor, and soul, it's also a more enjoyable listen. ~ Thom Jurek
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 10, 2019 | Concord Records

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Jazz - Released March 4, 2016 | Concord Records

On previous albums, Grammy-winning bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding dived into jazz standards, Brazilian rhythms, and sophisticated, harmonically nuanced R&B. But with her 2016 album, Emily's D+Evolution, she takes an entirely different approach. A concept album revolving around a central character named Emily (Spalding's middle name), Emily's D+Evolution is not a jazz album -- though jazz does inform much of the music here. Instead, Spalding -- who also co-produced the album alongside legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie) -- builds the release largely around angular, electric guitar-rich prog rock, kinetic, rhythmically rich jazz fusion, and lyrically poetic pop. Of course, Spalding's version of pop is never predictable, always harmonically inventive, and frequently imbued with as many improvisational moments as possible within the boundaries of a given song. But relative to her previous releases, this is still a significant shift. Helping to bring Emily's D+Evolution to life is a band Spalding put together specifically for this project, including guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Karriem Riggins, keyboardist Corey King, and others. Conceptually, the character of Emily represents Spalding as a young girl, and works as a conduit through which she explores and unpacks complex ideas about life, love, sex, race, education, and the creative process. While it would be reductive to call Emily's D+Evolution a retro album, Spalding's harmonic and melodic content and production aesthetics definitely have a '70s quality. Cuts like "Earth to Heaven" and "Noble Nobles" bring to mind the forward-thinking sound of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell's work with jazz artists like Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius, whose liquid bass style is an obvious antecedent to Spalding's approach here. While Spalding never sounds anything less than original on the album, part of the beauty here is in recognizing her inspirations and reveling in how she has made them her own. "Elevate or Operate" sounds like a serpentine Steely Dan melody, sung with Valkyrian agility over a strident, Dr. Dre-friendly militaristic beat. Similarly, "One" brings to mind Mitchell's soaring vocal style, set against a Greek chorus of harmonized backing vocals and accented by Stevens' cascading guitar lines, like something John McLaughlin would do with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Elsewhere, tracks like "Good Lava" and "Funk the Fear" reveal Spalding's swaggering, inner rock goddess and sound like a fantasy collaboration between Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. While Spalding has long been a virtuoso bassist and commanding, lithe vocalist, she's developed into a gifted songwriter with a poet's sense for imagistic, emotionally resonant lyrics. It's a formidable combination best represented here by the epic "Ebony and Ivy." Bookended with a machine-gun-fire spoken word poem, the song allows Spalding as Emily to explore a mythic childhood netherworld in which she ambitiously juxtaposes the joys of learning from the natural world and the desire for a formal education against historical notions of how science was, ironically, used to justify slavery. She sings, "It's been hard to grow outside/Growin' good and act happy/And pretend that the ivy vines/Didn't weigh our branches down." ~ Matt Collar
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Pop - Released February 7, 2012 | Heads Up

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Jazz - Released March 4, 2016 | Concord Records

On previous albums, Grammy-winning bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding dived into jazz standards, Brazilian rhythms, and sophisticated, harmonically nuanced R&B. But with her 2016 album, Emily's D+Evolution, she takes an entirely different approach. A concept album revolving around a central character named Emily (Spalding's middle name), Emily's D+Evolution is not a jazz album -- though jazz does inform much of the music here. Instead, Spalding -- who also co-produced the album alongside legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie) -- builds the release largely around angular, electric guitar-rich prog rock, kinetic, rhythmically rich jazz fusion, and lyrically poetic pop. Of course, Spalding's version of pop is never predictable, always harmonically inventive, and frequently imbued with as many improvisational moments as possible within the boundaries of a given song. But relative to her previous releases, this is still a significant shift. Helping to bring Emily's D+Evolution to life is a band Spalding put together specifically for this project, including guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Karriem Riggins, keyboardist Corey King, and others. Conceptually, the character of Emily represents Spalding as a young girl, and works as a conduit through which she explores and unpacks complex ideas about life, love, sex, race, education, and the creative process. While it would be reductive to call Emily's D+Evolution a retro album, Spalding's harmonic and melodic content and production aesthetics definitely have a '70s quality. Cuts like "Earth to Heaven" and "Noble Nobles" bring to mind the forward-thinking sound of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell's work with jazz artists like Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius, whose liquid bass style is an obvious antecedent to Spalding's approach here. While Spalding never sounds anything less than original on the album, part of the beauty here is in recognizing her inspirations and reveling in how she has made them her own. "Elevate or Operate" sounds like a serpentine Steely Dan melody, sung with Valkyrian agility over a strident, Dr. Dre-friendly militaristic beat. Similarly, "One" brings to mind Mitchell's soaring vocal style, set against a Greek chorus of harmonized backing vocals and accented by Stevens' cascading guitar lines, like something John McLaughlin would do with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Elsewhere, tracks like "Good Lava" and "Funk the Fear" reveal Spalding's swaggering, inner rock goddess and sound like a fantasy collaboration between Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. While Spalding has long been a virtuoso bassist and commanding, lithe vocalist, she's developed into a gifted songwriter with a poet's sense for imagistic, emotionally resonant lyrics. It's a formidable combination best represented here by the epic "Ebony and Ivy." Bookended with a machine-gun-fire spoken word poem, the song allows Spalding as Emily to explore a mythic childhood netherworld in which she ambitiously juxtaposes the joys of learning from the natural world and the desire for a formal education against historical notions of how science was, ironically, used to justify slavery. She sings, "It's been hard to grow outside/Growin' good and act happy/And pretend that the ivy vines/Didn't weigh our branches down." ~ Matt Collar