Esperanza Spalding – Radio Music Society (Deluxe Version) – Heads Up CD+DVD HUI 33626-00, CD: 57:08 DVD: 1 hr. [Distr. by Concord Music] [3/20/12]*****:
Portland’s own Esperanza Spalding has quickly become a brilliant light in the world of music, following her first CD in 2008 and 2010’s Chamber Music Society. The young bassist, singer and composer is rooted in jazz but making her mark in pop music with this double-disc which I think is one of the most successful CD+DVD albums I have seen and heard. She upset a lot of Justin Bieber fans by winning the Best New Artist title at the recent Grammy Awards.
Her singing, composing and both acoustic and electric bass playing are on full display here, and the whole album is more of a piece and more accessible and diverse than her previous ones. All but one of the tunes are also on the hour-long film, which cleverly goes without breaks from one song to another, but in a different order than those tracks are on the audio CD. (I don’t know why they don’t list them on the package.) The audio track on the DVD is only stereo, but using ProLogic an excellent surround effect can be achieved to go with the “conceptual” videos. She originally was thinking of having both discs be CDs, with one consisting of tunes fitting her “Chamber Music” concept and the other her “Radio Music” style. But with backing from Concord the music video angle came together.
The cinematography is expert, with most of the music videos having been shot in Barcelona, Spain, though some are done in New York City and “City of Roses” here in Portland—a touching tribute to her home town. The opening and closing of the film center around images of various radios, including some classic shortwave sets, and sounds of tuning in different stations. “Radio Song” is about people hearing some tune on the radio that really catches their ear and they want to write down the title to get it later. Only one of the songs is not by Spalding—the Stevie Wonder tune “I Can’t Help It”—which suggests Spalding’s character has a same-sex interest replacing her present boyfriend. Her modern jazz roots come thru strongly on this one.
The big hit of the album is probably the soul-like black pride anthem “Black Gold,” which is set visually in New York City. “Cinnamon Tree” is a romantic sort of lullaby with some commercial-looking animation added, and “Smile Like That” has her character waiting for a boyfriend who waits tables at a cafe where she performs, but he shows interest in another woman. But then a woman she’s interested in also appears in the audience. “Endangered Species” begins in an avant-world-music style, and transforms a lovely beach setting into the chaos of war while Spalding’s lyrics deal with actual headlines, such as references to the invisible, “accidental” killing of innocents by armed drone planes.
Not every tune is a winner; both musically and especially image/dance-wise, “Crowned & Kissed” seems embarrassing. “Land of the Free” works better as only lyrics, the images having prison scenes that seem forced. But in general this is a great hour of music video for thinking people, and the CD is one of the best current pop releases in my estimation. The camera and Esperanza get along very well, without a lot of gimmicks either. Her large ‘fro may take us back to Angela Davis, but she looks great in it. The video ends with a very long section of very complete credits for all concerned (and there’s evidently even more on her web site), including the several guest musicians: Algebra Blessett, Lionel Loueke, Lalah Hathaway, saxist Joe Lovano and drummer Billy Hart. The arrangements for a big band on “Hold On Me” were done by her former teacher, trumpeter Thara Memory.
|Disc: 1 —|
|1. Radio Song|
|2. Cinnamon Tree|
|3. Crowned & Kissed|
|4. Land Of The Free|
|5. Black Gold|
|6. I Can’t Help It|
|7. Hold On Me|
|8. Vague Suspicions|
|9. Endangered Species|
|10. Let Her|
|11. City Of Roses|
|12. Smile Like That|
|Disc: 2 —|
|1. Full Film (11 of the songs in different order)|
|2. Play Chapters|
|3. Bonus Material -[“Making of” videos – Storyboards – Director’s Notes]|