Saturday, April 16, 2016



Esperanza Spalding: Lead and Backing Vocals, Bass Guitar, Piano, Synth Bass
Matthew Stevens: Guitar
Justin Tyson: Drums
Karriem Riggins: Drums, Percussion 
Corey King: Synthesizer, Trombone, Backing Vocals
Celeste Butler, Kimberly L. Cook-Ratliff, Emily Elbert, Fred Martin, Katriz Trinidad, Nadia Washington: Backing Vocals 

All music and lyrics by Esperanza Spalding
"Noble Nobles" Lyrics by Esperanza Spalding/Music by Esperanza Spalding & Corey King
"I Want  It Now" Music and Lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

Produced by Esperanza Spalding and Tony Visconti

Released March 4, 2016

I am feeling that there is something in the air...

If you have been regular visitors to Synesthesia, you are already more than familiar with my concerns and laments over the current state of music in the 21st century concerning its overall devalued state. From an arsenal of plastic performers, a homogenization of musical genres by what feels to be a small team of writers and producers in addition to the homogenization of commercial radio stations across the country, the listening experience as I experienced it throughout my life has been significantly altered to a form that is indeed more passive than active. Now instead of running over the same old ground at length again, I wanted to turn my attention to something more encouraging, as I am having the feeling that all is not lost.

I am wondering if audiences are experiencing some sort of a craving, a desire for something more substantive regarding the state of the music that is being disseminated. With the concerts I witnessed within the previous year to the young musicians and songwriters that I have met to the albums that received massive acclaim, I wonder if there is a cultural need for committed songwriting, innovative production and honest to goodness musicianship again--a commitment to learning and delivering their craft with the utmost skill, passion and purity. It is as if, music has been reaching backwards in order to find a way to move forwards.

At this time, I am thrilled to turn your attention to Esperanza Spalding, Grammy award winning singer/songwriter/bassist and undeniable young creative force within the communities of jazz and soul via her celebrated albums the more baroque leaning "Chamber Music Society" (released August 17, 2010) and the more R&B influenced "Radio Music Society" (released March 20, 2012). While I have heard both of those albums and was indeed impressed by what I heard, they also did not quite grab me that completely. Even so, it was just enough of a push to keep my ear to the ground for whatever may happen to arrive next.

"Emily's D+Evolution," Spalding's fifth release, is the sound of complete arrival as she plunges into more jazz fusion territory that is as amazingly dizzying and demanding lyrically as it is musically. If the album happened to have two hands, it is a work that undeniably took those hands and grabbed me by the collar from the first sounds and the playful yet defiant opening words, "See this pretty girl/Watch this pretty girl flow..." before blasting off into the album's first track and declaration of purpose and intent, "Good Lava."

Where Spalding and her bandmates possess and propel themselves into a superlative power trio groove, one forceful enough to make devotees of Rush and Cream snap to attention, Spalding's plentiful lyrics, all of which are delivered through her pure, crystal clear songbird of a singing voice, are words of simultaneous warm invitation and unflappable conviction directly to all of us listeners.

"lone ranger,
I see you like the view
wond'ring from a distance
what my pretty peak can do

come brave me

don't march up in your 
discerning shoes
I see right through the cool
layered around your 
glowing fuse...

so let loose
that mountain
of good times, good lava
we all know you wanna

see this pretty girl flow
wait 'til you feel it"

"Good Lava" is a stellar album opener, from the superior musicianship to the flowing cavalcade of melodies flowing inside, out and around each other and with a wild velocity that demands the fullest of your attention and focus, so as not to miss even one deliriously executed moment. It swaggers and completely sways itself around you, leaving you undeniably charmed, thrilled and curious as to where the ride of this album will indeed take you. And for me, upon first listen, Esperanza Spalding fully connected to my musical spirit in a way that had previously evaded me. I was in the palm of her hands and ready for whatever should follow.

Now remember what I had already mentioned about reaching backwards to move forwards? Please allow me to perform the same as I explore this album for you. Unlike Spalding's two immediate prior releases, "Emily's D+Evolution" carries a specific and deeply idiosyncratic musical pedigree that holds an enormous appeal for my sense and sensibilities.

The jazz/rock fusion approach most certainly but beyond the more aggressive performances, I found myself drawn to the album as the titular "Emily" is not only Spalding's middle name but also the moniker for Spalding's fully conceived alter-ego, as depicted on the album cover as well as promotional materials and music videos, she of the day-glo colored spectacles and wild, psychedelic attire. By utilizing the role of a character to communicate through, Spalding has created an entire album that serves as an exploration of Emily's worldview from issues of spirituality, racism, sexism, and individuality to the trials of confronting and transcending fears in order to ascend and finally, arrive, albeit with successes and inevitable failures existing as essential stops upon her life journey.

"Unconditional Love," "One" and "Rest In Pleasure" each serve as ballads but none are traditional male/female stories as they each feel to chronicle an even more crucial love story between either Spalding and Emily or Emily with her spirit or even both. Regarding matters of the metaphysical, the slinky "Judas," and especially the outstanding "Earth To Heaven" gives Emily's perspective upon our societal relationship to religion and spiritual matters, while spotlighting our all too human failures and even the rigid convictions we place upon something that is ultimately not tangible and impossible to fully comprehend simply because we are human. Spalding (or is it Emily?) sings the following passage:

"burn or charge or hate
church men debate
how to curse a sin and 
their burden of upholding 
the law
what if the heavenly boss 
turns out 
to be ruling without orders"

Stretching the conceptual canvas even wider, "Earth To Heaven" masterfully spotlights all of the contradictions and conundrums of or relationships with the here and now and the hereafter by maintaining a rightfully and deeply complex outlook while always remaining warm, inclusive and wholly empathetic as there are essentially many roads up the same mountain and that we are essentially all upon the same journey.

"there are no perfect 
amends here
you just get to keep on
getting there getting there
there's no promise or test 
you just get to keep on
getting there getting there
no virgins or saints here
you get to keep on 
getting there getting there
all good children and evil
are even here 
just getting there
war man's cross on
their shoulders"

Race, from self-perceptions to the perceptions society places upon you, takes center stage with the dark "Ebony And Ivy," with its descending chords mirroring the lament contained in the lyrics, which state, "it's been hard to grow outside/growin' good and act happy/and pretend that the ivy vines/don't weigh our branch down."

The more acoustic driven "Noble Nobles" boldly confronts the roots of racism and the the lies of school book history lessons with a matter-of-fact incredulity. Again, Spalding (or is it Emily?) sings:

"talking founding fathers with a free philosophy
that don't mention me
or the stain of red blood on their hands, at all
now, we all
replay it 'til we understand, the moral
of, a story we're shooting again, tomorrows

The final third of "Emly's D+Evolution" centers around Emily's life purpose, integrity and sense of self in an ever shifting world and universe where such matters feel to carry less and less currency. "Change the way I see my life/why would I? why would I?," asks Emily within "Farewell Dolly." Perseverance and urgent warnings sit at the heart of "Elevate Or Operate" in which Emily stresses how she (and we) should continue to push ahead regardless of the obstacles and failings or else we suffer to find ourselves forever serving the desires of all others except ourselves. The propulsive, ferocious "Funk The Fear," which is filled with rhythmic chants and catapults itself into a monstrously performed outro, finds Emily imploring us to "FUNK THE FEAR.LIVE YOU RLIFE/'cause in an instant, it could be gone/and all the waiting was in vain."   

The album closes with a true jaw dropper. Spalding's spine tingling, unrepentantly defiant and even slyly sinister cover of Anthony Newley's "I Want It Now," is not only a selection that sounds like an unlikely yet astonishing amalgamation of Queen and Rogers and Hammerstein, it is copiously filled with an unshakable determination sprinkled with the influence of our dearly departed David Bowie--certainly not surprising as Newley was one of Bowie's major influences and Spalding co-produced the album alongside Bowie's longtime collaborator and friend Tony Visconti.

The influence of David Bowie over Esperanza Spalding's "Emily's D+Evolution" cannot be overlooked even though Spalding's artistic vision and aesthetic is markedly different than his. Yet for this new album, it is as if Spalding has reached backwards to the era of glam rock (or more to the recent past and present with hip-hop) as the album is indeed conceived and executed through the worldview of a character much like how glam rock and hip hop utilized artifice and alter egos to bring out the true spirit of the artist in question.

But even moreso and more importantly, what Esperanza Spalding has achieved so inexplicably (and almost metaphysically) is to reach backwards and tap into the type of musical spirit that I truly felt that we would never be able to hear again as it was so individualistic and idiosyncratic. And that particular musical spirit is the one t hat belonged exclusively to none other than Joni Mitchell. And I do not necessarily mean the Mitchell of "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Both Sides Now." I am specifically meaning the Joni Mitchell that arrived and existed throughout the 1970's with her heavily jazz influenced and unquestionably genre defying works which included the likes of "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns" (released 1978), "Hejira" (released 1976), the double album "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" (released December 13, 1977) and her collaboration with Charles Mingus simply entitled "Mingus" (released June 13, 1979). If you have not heard those albums, they will indeed provide you with the roper signposts as to what you may find upon  Spalding's album and if you already do know those albums, then you know precisely what I am writing about.

This is not to express in the least that Esperanza Spalding is a mere copycat. Not at all, dear readers and listeners. It is just so uncanny to me that Spalding has tapped into a musical spirit so ephemeral and so effectively that she has truly unearthed something that I felt that all of us would never be able to hear again as it was so exclusive to its originator, the inimitable Joni Mitchell, whom has ceased recording and performing since 2007 and also whom we nearly lost last year due to a brain aneurysm. And yet, upon hearing Spalding's album, Joni is HERE!!!

You can hear this influence and spirit throughout the entirety of the album through Spalding's vocal phrasings and mostly through her ability to magically create musical compositions that are simultaneously demanding and wholly accessible as they are bursting with melodies upon melodies--often several simultaneous melodies--that intertwine and bloom into bouquets of sound. And through reaching back, Esperanza Spalding has pushed herself and her art a quantum leap forwards as she has created a veritable manifesto, something that could even be viewed or heard as a companion piece to Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" (released March 15, 2015), last year's mammoth, densely layered work of social/political/global/introspective examination and exploration. With "Emily's D+Evolution," Esperanza Spalding, via her alter ego, emerges as the spiritual "yin" to Lamar's explosive "yang."

And with that, I simply wish to leave you with Spalding's (or again, is it Emily's) own words from the album:

"i wanna break the rules with you
and see the dream come true..."

Esperanza Spalding has more than accomplished her part. Now it's up to you!!!!

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