I love jazz of all kinds, with maybe the exception of the overly “smooth” type. OK, I take that back. “Smooth jazz” is great love-making music. In general though, lengthy flavorsome impressions in the vein of the “traditionalists” like John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Grant Green and Miles Davis is what defines jazz for me. On the other side of the coin, there’s room in my heart for the refined structured jazz of Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Ramsey Lewis and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Then there’s the hybrid esoteric jazz fusion of the likes of Al Di Meola, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, John Scofield and many others. Esperanza probably fits in this category somewhere.
On January 20th, my wife and I saw the Esperanza Spalding Quartet perform at the Michigan State University’s Wharton Center. Watching Esperanza play the bass and sing, we ran out of superlatives to describe what was taking place before us. We were both mesmerized and sat there spellbound for most of the two-hour concert. If I have to choose one word to describe her performance that evening, it would have to be simply “astounding”.
I know a little bit about the bass since I’ve been playing it since I was at least fourteen, but watching Esperanza humbled me. Singing lead vocals while playing the bass is not an easy task. It requires a lot of concentration, technical dexterity, and overall coordination. Just ask Sting, Jack Bruce, Brian Wilson, Timothy Schmit, Paul McCartney and many other singing bassists. Esperanza does both in a way that pushes and amalgamates the two tasks into a different dimension beyond what is humanly possible. It was just amazing to watch and hear her.
She played mostly newer material that evening in anticipation of a new album. I recognized at least two selections from her first release but the new material held the audience captivated. It shows the direction her music is heading and I want to go there with her. The word “genius” has been applied freely to many musicians who dared to push the boundaries of the accepted norm in the business which makes me cringe sometimes. In Esparanza’s case though, I gladly accept that description without hesitation.
If you love jazz, the bass, a lovely singing voice and extraordinary musicianship, don’t miss a chance to see Esperanza when she is performing with her band near your town. There’s room for everyone in her eclectic play list. You will not regret it. She is gifted and she in herself is a gift to us.