Esperanza Spalding is arguably one of the most talented and lauded jazz bassists, as she breathes new life into the old genre by infusing nuances of R&B, hip-hop, funk and pop. Only at the young age of 28, she has already released two critically acclaimed albums, has received a 2011 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and has undeniably paved the way for new and aspiring jazz artists. Her performance at the Moody Theater for an Austin City Limits taping on Sunday, December 2nd was a testament to all her accomplishments and dedicated hard work to innovate the dying genre.
Amidst an mélange of trumpets, saxophones and pianos, Spalding’s voice meandered through high soaring notes to honey sweet timbres in “Us” off of her recent album, Radio Music Society. Despite boasting an impressive repertoire, Spalding let the musicians have their own seconds of fame by humbly introducing them and entreating them to have a few musical bars of solo time. Her entrance was an explosion of sounds ranging from the smooth melodies of R&B to the clarions of big band horns that allowed them to be a unified voice of their message: let the music speak.
Slowing the performance to a sensual waltz, Esperanza’s musical journey steadied into the slinky ballad, “Hold On Me”. Transforming into a longing lover and hopeless romantic, Spalding drew out her words in an angst-ridden and yearning billet-doux. “Good evening! You came to tune in to Radio Music,” said Esperanza Spalding. “Now I’m gonna show you how we use it.” And that she did, as she segued into the funk confection of “Crowned and Kissed”. Horns bellowed for an entrance fit enough for a king as she welcomed the audience into her fantasy: Millions of radio listeners take control of the FM airwaves to hear and steer the power of music.
In Spalding’s fantasy, she takes up many different facades: an intimate songwriter with her acoustic double bass; an unyielding warlock with her electronic bass; a beat lyricist as her words take varied sonic qualities; and a fictional poet as she writes tales of noble kings, cultural trends, and bad romances. And when words aren’t appropriate, the wordless soaring of ear candy melodies convey her feelings at that moment.
Before ending the night in a solo encore accompanied by drummer, Lyndon Rochelle, she engaged her listeners in “Radio Song”: Her philosophy on music that revisits the nostalgic feeling when a song on the radio just pulls you in.
“If you want, sing it loud with love. With love in your heart, because we like to, because we need to.”