Esperanza Spalding: Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA 10/14/11

With her back faced to the audience as she stands patiently for a moment, Esperanza Spalding collects her thoughts on the dimly lit stage of the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia as a string trio plays a soft melody in the background.  She flips on the switch to a lamp to illuminate the setting, slowly takes off her tan overcoat and recedes into a comfortable leather chair, emphasizing meaning in each step.  Pausing for a second to think about the day, Spalding slips off her shoes and pours a glass of wine, taking a sip as she seems to unwind.  As she walks over to join the other musicians she does it with ease, carefully picking up her tall acoustic bass, almost as if setting up a scene for the audience to peer in to.  This intelligent artistic introduction set up the core to the complete performance of jazz-bassist singer-songwriter Esperanza Spalding’s latest project, Chamber Music Society, which debuted in August of last year.

Setting the path of the evening in a tangent direction to that of her album, Spalding opened with “Little Fly,” an arrangement structured around a poem by English poet William Blake.  Consumed in the music she stands confidently in control, her afro responding to the motion her body moves with the music.  Moving into “Knowledge of Good and Evil,” Spalding was joined by pianist Leonardo Genovese and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington to enter into a more complex improvised phase of performance.  Throughout the show, the connection between the piano, drums and bass were developing a strong chemistry which at times acted independently but still together in time.

Spalding featured the entire collection of songs from Chamber Music Society, and the connection with the audience and presentation seemed to be more of a relaxed conversation defined by the music.  The patience the group of musicians displayed in keying in on an improvised groove was so visual, as the thought process and interpretation could nearly be seen onstage.     

One of the most captivating musical characteristics of Esperanza Spalding is the way she uses her phenomenal voice as an instrument.  Her vocal presence appears to act as a guide at times for the pieces.  Communication is essential for musicians when performing together and when Spalding sings in a scat manner or just free-flowing, the sound seems to define what she is thinking right at the moment; something that can equally be translated from the other musicians onstage.  Her expressive nature when performing live is so physical and emotional, and the effort she puts into each note and its tone is incredibly precise.  Taking her bow in hand, Spalding entered into “Wild Is the Wind,” one of the most powerful tracks off of Chamber Music Society.  The piece has a haunting nature to it and completely showcases her impressive vocal range and expressive style of performing.

World class defines the caliber of musicianship present when you see  Spalding perform and of the musicians she surrounds herself with.  Esperanza Spalding, the young musical prodigy from Portland, Oregon who went on to graduate from and become the youngest professor at the Berklee College of Music who went on to win a Grammy Award for Best New Artist, this past year, has gone on to captivate audiences worldwide.  Her engaging personality, loyalty to the promotion of music and arts education in schools and overall respect for musicianship puts Spalding in a league to inspire.  Music connoisseurs can look forward to the sound that will make up the next chapter of her career when her upcoming project, Radio Music Society, is released in the upcoming year.  

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