Saturday, December 11, 2010

Esperanza Spalding *A Night at the Chicago Symphony Center

Transcendental flight...
Esperanza took us with her
....into her own ethereal musical fantasy.......into her prive' musicale chamber
using her voice, her bass and her compositions and superb musical ensemble to transform the concert experience into an transcendental musical flight of fantasy.

Transcendent because the concert went well beyond the ordinary or common experience...

Traveling with Esperanza's voice is a journey in itself. In her musicale universe, she uses her own crayon colors..... her own musicale scalar systems... and her own musicale language which combines scatting and aria techniques....creating a sound that that is almost indescribable... but also mysterious, haunting and passionately unrelenting.
She uses her bass and voice and the gorgeous timbres of the string ensemble to create a chamber of sound, colors, moods and ritmo....rhythms.

In this concert the instrumentation of the ensemble included violin, viola, cello, bass, Grand piano, Fender Rhodes, trap drums and vocals. The ensemble includes Argentinean pianist, Leo Genovese, Award winning, Jazz violinist, Sara Caswell, Violist, Lois Martin, Cellist-composer, Jody Redhage, background vocalist, Lela Cyr and drummer, composer and producer, Terri Lyne Carrington.

Speaking of strings...the string arrangements were elegant, imaginative and simply stunning.
What was most surprising and unexpected was the way the string ensemble was used to play jazz chord voicings as "comps" (accompaniment) against the melody while the pianist played in and out of the changes on Grand piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano.
In many traditional jazz arrangements, the piano might used to play chord comps while the strings might be used to play the lines of background melody accompaniment.

If we didn't know already, in this concert, we found out very quickly that Esperanza is not a traditionalist by any means. Her choice of repertoire showed us that.... immediately!
Instead of playing expected songs that we may have experienced from watching her on video clips including the White House concert presentations, PBS or even her recent appearance as part of the tribute to Prince on the BET awards show,
she departed from the expected.....away from the light Brazilian tinged melodic songs that we could sing along with....
she departed and dared us to journey with her into a more classical journey into a forest filled with atonal and angular harmonies.
It was intense and intriguing performance filled with driving rhythms and haunting harmonies but...when one comes to a concert expecting to interact and hum along with light melodias and then the musica veers off into the dissonance reminiscent of composer, Bartok, it can be an unexpected turn in the road that can be almost off-putting.

As she showcased the deeper works of her new album, The Chamber Music Society's more instrumental pieces, the audience had a very visceral response. The Chicago Symphony center's patron capacity is 2350 and it was completely full to the rafters at this concert.
Many had come to experience the new hope of nu jazz fusion and neo soul.
Many had totally enjoyed the opening performance of violinist, Regina Carter and were quite vocal when she was performing. No polite golf claps here.
So it was a bit strange to see a few patrons leaving in the midst of Esperanza's performance.

In her first two songs in the concert at the Symphony Center Esperanza showed her command of polyphony and timing and harmonic depth as she weaved through an avant-garde tour de force of sound and rhythm. In her opening songs I felt the same rush and force... that I've experienced in watching live/or video performances of Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius, Santana or Aierto Moreira and Flora Purim. Such a unique musical voice and sound.

For some, her flight into an atonal ascent of harmonies was just too involved to follow....
The meter of the rhythms felt too complex to find a mellow R&B groove to bob your head to....and while it proved to be too much for just a few in the audience...
the majority of patrons stayed to see where she might journey next.

As a musician, I think I understood her taking an opportunity to present some complex compositions in a setting such as Symphony Center, the home of the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra and award winning classical performers but I also longed to hear the sounds and songs that brought me into the world of Esperanza's music..
Songs like... Antonio Carlos Jobim's, Inutil Paisagem" (known in English as "If You Never Come To Me") and the funk and flow of She Got To You and I Know You Know had been floating in my head all the way to the concert.
For her new and emerging audiences who may not have found her in the jazz world, it would have been interesting to see her play a combination of the multi-genres that she has become known for.

Esperanza creates her own flow ... her own vocal dance! Her vocals are laced with Gypsy-like harmonies and she weaves in the musical elements of Classical aria, Jazz scatting, Brazilian musical nuances and neo soul.. funk. She uses her voice like an instrument, swinging minor melodias against the backdrop of violin, viola, cello and her bass. She composes intriguing music that is sensual as well as fun... like a stroll on the beaches of Rio.

With vocals, light like souffle... and rhythms spicy like gumbo... she's fun to watch as she dances a tango with her bass, barefoot, light and free .. like an Argentine tango.. a Milonga... singing, scatting, playing all over the songs with a virtuosity that is scary.

Esperanza Spalding , 26, born in Portland Oregon is a young performer-composer growing.... and is described as a 'multi-instrumentalist, jazz bassist and vocalist who draws upon many genres in her own compositions.' She began playing violin at age four and by the time Spalding was five, she had taught herself to play the violin and was playing with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. Spalding stayed with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon until she was fifteen and left as concertmaster. - Source-Wikipedia

In 2005, Esperanza Spalding become the focus of jazz magazines and has toured with major performers including Patti Austin and Stanley Clarke. She has released two albums of jazz fused with other genres and has achieved critical acclaim from the musical community as a performer-composer.
Recently, she has made two appearances at White House concert presentations, was picked by President Obama to perform at his Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in 2009; at the Austin City PBS; on the Jimmy Kimmel's show; the David Letterman show and an appearance on the BET awards show as part of the tribute to the musician, Prince.

In December 2010, she was nominated for a Grammy as a best new artist.

For a interesting experience with Esperanza Spaulding
go to her website at: and check out her videos on Youtube.

Chicago Symphony Center performance
AA 12/10/2010

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