Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society – Heads Up International – HUI-31810, 56:20 ****:
(Esperanza Spalding – acoustic bass, vocals; Leo Genovese – piano, Rhodes, Melodica; Terri Lyne Carrington – drums; Quintino Cinalli – percussion, Candombe Drums, Bombo Leguero; Entcho Todorov – violin; Lois Martin – viola; David Eggar – cello; Milton Nascimento – voice; Gretchen Parlato – voice; Ricardo Vogt – guitar.)
The concept of integrating jazz with classical music is daunting. To Esperanza Spalding, a passionate and inventive musician, diversity and challenge are symmetrical. After teaching herself the violin at the age of five, she would go on to play with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon, reinvent herself as a bassist, and pursue jazz studies at Portland State University and Berklee School of Music. Along the way, compositional maturation inspired a dedicated exploration of voice as an instrument to define this process.
As a teenage phenomenon, Esperanza toured with singer Patti Austin, learning fundamentals and techniques of singing and performing. She toured with Joe Lovano, and has collaborated with Stanley Clarke, Christian Scott, Fourplay, and Donald Harrison, gaining prominent supporters in Pat Metheny and Gary Burton. Proud of her tough Northeast Portland roots, her work reflects a cultural merging of contrasting influences.
On Chamber Music Society, her third release, Spalding’s songwriting and vocals have matured, invoking a variety of stylistic interpretations. “Knowledge of Good and Evil” offers an ethereal, delicate lead vocal, marked by the wordless “vocalese” (a classical music technique often compared to scat in jazz). There is an interesting chamber arrangement of a William Blake poem, “Little Fly” which gives Spalding a chance to exude a whimsical tone, while offering intricate phrasing.
Brazilian-influenced tracks, a self-described preference, are emphasized. “Winter Sun” exhibits a sparkling interplay between Spalding’s bass lines and Leo Genovese’s immaculate piano solos. With only bass accompaniment, “Inutil Paisagem”, by Antonio Carlos Jobim, is exquisitely voiced by Spalding and Gretchen Parlato in English and Portugese, with catchy wordless harmonies.
Spalding asserts her singing prowess on the Dimitri Tiompkin/Ned Washington standard, “Wild is the Wind”, with a complex and stirring translation. An atmospheric cello solo by David Eggar adds to the ambience of this piece. Jazz aficionados will appreciate the rhythm and accent of “Really Very Small”, and the skipping waltz time of “Chacarera”.
With eight original songs, Chamber Music Society is a testament to an artist who has integrated jazz fusion with a personal vision.
TrackList: Little Fly; Knowledge of Good and Evil; Really Very Small: Chacarera; Wild Is the Wind; Apple Blossom; As A Sprout; What a Friend; Winter Sun; Inutil Paisagem; Short and Sweet.
— Robbie Gerson