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Esperanza Spalding – by Eileen Rene

As I sit here writing Im delightfully listening to an outstanding musician; so


happy to experience such wonderful artistry. Her sound is bright,
passionate, unique, eclectic, funky, jazzy, classy, fusion, dynamic, avant
garde, tantilizing, theatrical, daring, Brazilian, Afro Cuban, all of this and
more. She is the amazingly talented and diverse Esperanza Spalding.,,,
and now Im hearing her recent pop rock, new age project…. What a talent !

As a young musical prodigy, Esperanza was surrounded by outstanding


musicians since an early age, and was encouraged and guided to success.
At the tender age of 5 she was already playing violin with the. Chamber
Music Society. She taught herself bass and guitar, and played her first
blues club at 15, playing just one line on the bass until she rehearsed more
with some local pros. She was home schooled and at 16 she went to
Portland State University on a scholarship, and then to Berklee College of
Music on another scholarship. At age of 20 Esperanza was the youngest
instructor to be hired at Berklee, where she continues to teach.

Her influences are YoYo Ma, Madonna, Ornette Coleman and Joni Mitchell,
Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter. Its easy to hear many other influences in her
compositions as well. She says that most of the musicians in her younger
life were not well known but, they themselves are prodigies to her. She
actually doesn’t refer to herself as one and believes her talent comes from
the influences around her. John Lockwood was her instructor at Berklee
and Pat Matheney encouraged her to continue with music when she
thought of moving on to something else.

Esperanza leaps and dives into a mixture of sounds and textures where
one hears so many different influences. Off her latest album, the track
called “One” has similar melody lines to Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me I Think I’m
Falling”. She has covered Louis Armstrongs “What a Wonderful World”, a
funky modern arrangement, with lovely bright transitions, and brilliant
scatting vocal riffs. She delivers Stevie Wonder’s “I Cant Help It”, and
Sting’s “Fragile”, all in a style of her own. Her renditions of each of these
tunes compliment her smooth funky style, as she slides fluid bass lines on
the double bass as if it’s effortless.
Her voice is sweet, and soft, which turns raspy for a moment, just as she
sits between her natural and falsetto and back again. You can hear this in
her song “I Know You Know” performance for the and San Sebastion Live
2009 and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Such a sultry sweet tone that I
can listen to a thousand times. In the latter concert she dances her fingers
over her Jaco Patorius Fretless Jazz Bass. Then her version of Stevie’s
“Overjoyed” boasts fluffy, light bubbly vocals over a tasteful two feel bass
that smoothly bounces through the song like pudding. Then she moans
with pleading honesty in Sting’s “Fragile”, so naturally compelling, over a
skipping bass line with a slightly lighter touch. As she opens the song to
honour Sting it’s as if she is breathing through the bass, and the bass
breathing through her as if they are one.

There’s definitely Pat Matheney style of melodies in her vocals on her song
“Unconditional Love”, with very climactic cascading climbs, just like
Matheny. Her version of “Samba em Preludio” by Baden Powell is haunting
and breath taking; singing in Portuguese on a bed of some tricky bass lines
coordinated with the melody line is very entrancing. Her “Body and Soul”
has a similar effect with more instrumentation and rhythmic structure.

From her latest album, the song “Good Lava” invites a completely different
style, very avant gard, pop rock and playful like that of Grace Jones, or
Kate Bush ; strong solid sassy vocals, hard driving bass and guitar lines.
This latest 2016 release called Emily’s D+Evolution is a collection of funk
rock fusion songs with a very new age sound.

Spalding’s musical journey seemed to be full on with the best of the best in
the industry right from the start. She has a unique and courageous flow to
her songwriting. She has also worked with Herbie Hancock, Bobbie
McFerrin and Ella Fitzgerald. She has also contributed to the all female
recording project Mosaic with and other wonderful female musicians, Geri
Allen, Nona Hendrix, Diana Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and several others.
Spalding will also be writing a libretto with Wayne Shorter sometime soon.

As a female musician she has managed to gain distinction and respect


beyond her femininity. She is another strong example for women to persue
their musicianship despite male dominance in music and especially bass
players. Other outstanding female bass players that I’ll definitely be
checking out are: Tal Wikenfield, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rhonda Smith, and
many more.
References.

Faber Companion to 20th Century Music


Wikipedia
Rolling Stone Magazine
New York Times
YouTube
The New Yorker
Pitchfork Magazine