Review Summary: ESPERANZA SPALDING
Good musicianship is about presence, individuality, and skill, or something like that. Good musicians and composers are clever and engaging. Esperanza Spalding is beautiful, but she really wants you to notice that her “music is together like any other man.” Critics and publicists have taken the bait, lauding her “the hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music” after Esperanza
debuted in 2008.
Chamber Music Society
is an exquisite study in Esperanza Spalding. Her softly plucked bass begins the album, before her focused and demonstrative voice enters; it carries a wide dynamic and intonational range without diminishing the traceable qualities that give her voice confidence. Too often virtuosos go the path of assimilation and robotically lose themselves in the sounds of their peers or predecessors. The talent shooting out of her brain is fresh and awesome, and she is very lovable.
This album, however, is a bit of bore. I could never deny the tight musicianship demonstrated across these eleven tracks, but I will deny its power.
Close your eyes. Listen to what I describe. Wait, open your eyes, but take an imaginary aural gander at this:
Rim clicks on every 8th note in an up-tempo six/eight, sharp violin attacks matching the clicks, the tonality is some bizzare mutation of a minor sound, fade into a loose, fragmented percussion solo...
That is the introduction to my favorite moment on the record: “Touch me.... love me, say you do,” Esperanza croons in “Wild is the Wind.” The chords are suddenly powerful and my ears are singing along. Unfortunately, I have to wish the previous song didn't drown in understated, awkward, and aimless developments.
That's the story of Chamber Music Society
: Spalding's group displays exceptional dynamic restraint, but too gentle rhythms, burdernsome melodies, rubato sections, and indirect hooks undercut the talent of everyone involved. Tracks like “Apple Blossom” are disjointed and grating. “What A Friend” plays with your ears, but foreign tonalities and oppressive melodies make it hard to fall in love with. There are moments where solid grooves will you have your body pulsating, but don't hold your breath for them.
This “next big thing in jazz” has garnered such attention by her live talent, an attitude unwilling to “water down” her music, and her early success story (Berklee faculty at age 20). Radio Music Society
is already in the works, aiming at an audience of everyone. Expect a blending of Top 40 rock and hip-hop with funk and jazz. Spalding is hard-working and as usual is not looking to repeat on her past successes. It will be interesting to hear how she shapes her songs in the future. Will she continue to avoid hooks and conventional energy or will she embrace pop culture (she claims to want to belong beside Beyonce on the rack) and craft ballads and catchier songs?