A 10-year anniversary of Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society gets a welcome vinyl upgrade.
Esperanza Spalding – Radio Music Society 10th Anniversary Edition – Heads Up International (2012)/Craft Recordings CR00579 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 57:54 ****1/2:
(Esperanza Spalding – electric bass, double bass, vocals; Leo Genovese – piano, keyboards; Daniel Blake – reeds; Darren Barrett – trumpet; Jeff Galindo – trombone, Terry Lyne Carrington – drums; Gretchen Parlato – vocals; Joe Lovano – tenor saxophone; Algebra Blessett – vocals; Lionel Loueke – guitar; Lalah Hathaway – vocals; Jack DeJohnette – drums; American Music Program Big Band; plus many others)
Portland native Esperanza Spalding has developed from a child prodigy to a five time Grammy-winning jazz artist. As a composer, instrumentalist (electric and double bass) and singer, she has released a series of albums that have garnered critical and public acclaim. Her first releases, Junjo and Esperanza, merged various musical genres. Spalding’s lifted her career considerably with her third studio album, Chamber Music Society. Then, Radio Music Society made her a star. In addition to recording and touring, Spalding performed at the 84th annual Academy Awards, and was the youngest instructor (20 years old) ever at the Berkelee School Of Music. She is active in numerous social and political causes.
Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered 180-gram double vinyl of Radio Music Society. With an all-star lineup of studio players, 12 diverse and concise (by jazz standards) tracks are rendered with aural complexity, mostly original compositions. Side A opens with the single, “Radio Song”. With breezy vocalese enveloping funky rhythm, keyboards and horns, Spalding approach to jazz vocals includes syncopation. She utilizes her voice like an instrument. There is a nimble tempo break that is framed by free form jazz. The arrangement is compelling, with outstanding backup. Leo Genovese’s piano solo is soulful. “Cinnamon Tree’ veers into classical with violin and cello. An electric guitar steers the jam into pop mode. Spalding’s fluid vocals are ethereal and build the atmospheric texture. On “Crowned And Kissed” Spalding integrates the jazzy arrangements with ebullient singing fronting a group consisting of Terry Lyne Carrington (drums), Leo Genovese, Darren Barrett (trumpet), Daniel Blake (tenor saxophone) and Jeff Galindo (trombone). Her bass lines are groove-infused and lively.
A scathing rebuke of the American justice system, “Land Of The Free” intermingles stripped down instrumentals (bass, organ) with social consciousness. Spalding’s lyrics are expressive and her shimmering voice adds texture. A certain highlight of the album is “Black Gold”. With a combination of gospel-infused soul, a funky Spalding bass line sets a festive tone with rousing vocal support from Algebra Blessett and the Savannah Children’s Choir. Here, the tender lead vocals are excellent. Stevie Wonder’s tune, “I Can’t Help It” (originally recorded by Michael Jackson) explores a hypnotic flowing Caribbean translation with help from tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. Again the layered vocals combined with saxophone and Fender Rhodes (Genovese) is atmospheric, but grounded by the concise rhythmic timing of electric bass and drums (Lyndon Rochelle). Spalding’s freewheeling delivery (with a formidable upper-register) make the song compelling. Her creative intonation is at the core of “Hold On Me”. It has a vintage big band (American Music Program) feel with vibrant horn chorus and a bluesy piano solo (Janice Scroggins). Her singing balances slow-burning intensity and assured confidence.
‘Vague Suspicions” is a change of pace with interesting chord changes in a relatively low-keyed translation. Her interaction on double bass with the other players (especially guitarist Ricardo Vogt) is intricate and seamless. The cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Endangered Species” displays the soulfulness and electronic dynamics of fusion. Spalding’s vocals are flexible (in range) and very unique Her electric bass is muscular and anchors the jam. Lelah Hathaway’s deeper alto is a nice touch. Utilizing a slow funk aesthetic, “Let Her” translates the aftermath of a love that has disintegrated. In an apparent homage to Portland, (“City Of Roses”), Spalding weaves a nostalgic reflection of her hometown with expanded instrumentation. The finale, “Smile Like That” is small combo (quintet) jazz with acid guitar countered by smooth Fender Rhodes and unobtrusive trumpet.
Radio Music Society was a significant turning point in the career trajectory of Esperanza Spalding. This was a complex musical tapestry orchestrated by her songwriting arranging and instrumental/vocal skills. The re-mastered sound mix is outstanding with excellent separation. Spalding’s voice tonality is captured with precision, and the RTI vinyl pressing is stellar.
Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society, 10th Anniversary Edition
Side A: Radio Song; Cinnamon; Crowned & Kissed
Side B: Land Of The Free; Black Gold; I Can’t Help It
Side C: Hold On Me; Vague Suspicions; Endangered Species
Side D: Let Her; City Of Roses; Smile Like That.
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