The D Evolution of Esperanza Spalding

The buzz after Esperanza Spalding’s performance at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival was “Well, that’s not the Esperanza Spalding I know!” I’m listening to a couple of Cds representing the Spalding most jazz fans would have come to see, unaware she was re-inventing herself for this news project. Not quite Bob Dylan going electric at Newport, but a bit of a shock none-the-less.EsperanzaSpalding2

I’ve done a bit of on-line research to learn she wanted to change things up and add theatre, poetry performance and spoken word to her shows. Considering I had just come from Envoi Poetry Festival a couple of weeks before, this was right down my alley.

Her re-invention takes us back to high-school, and blues bars Spalding must have known. The bigger influence, she said was Cream, which featured  Eric Clapton on guitar and “Bruce’s powerful, versatile vocals and prominent bass playing, Baker’s pulsating, jazz-influenced drumming and Pete Brown‘s poetry-inspired lyrics.” (Wikipedia). So, she was inventing herself in the context of a power trio with a thunderous electric bass and a shit-load of attitude. So  it’s Strange Brew meets Bitches Brew (Miles Davis), and I enjoyed the result. Actually I thought I heard more than a few Bitches Brew references in the concerts I went to at the Jazz Festival.

I was disappointed in the theatrics she was integrating into the performance and figure Spalding is going to have some work to do to make this part of her regular public performances. A professional theatre director, and a little more time could have taken the show right over the top. Though I understood the lyrics were an integral part of the show I couldn’t hear them well enough to understand the words, and I think it’s time for surtitles for shows like this.

Rock n roll influences don’t scare me in jazz, and I have a great admiration for artists who re-invent themselves for the different projects that inspire them. Cassandra Wilson is one of the best examples with her recent radical tribute Billie Holliday and projects such as Jumpworld in her past. No, they’re not all going to work – but I like the risk taking, and the idea of the record album as a work of art. In this downloading age we have tons of singles, and our own “playlists,” but I still prefer the album, especially when it shows some originality and connective tissue. I’m looking for the album, and will  have more to say when I have a closer listen.





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