Concert Review: Esperanza Spalding

Feature photo by Sandrine Lee

You know what they say about small women…they carry a big bass. At a time when I am in search of information on all things jazz, particularly the pivotal, yet seldom acknowledged role of women in Jazz’s history. Here Esperanza drops from Jazz heaven to empower the legacy of every single woman of Jazz whether they were recognized or not, with her all women, plus one dude, band. Her extremely diverse band reflects the diversity of her music.

When I wonder what it was like to see Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington for the first time, Esperanza Spalding can no doubt take us back to that place. She walks on stage completely relax, literally kicks off her shoes, takes off her coat and enjoys a few sips of wine to the accompaniment of her strings department. At 26 years old Esperanza comes to us at a time where Jazz needs it’s youthful voice back. Reminiscent of John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong,
she too entered the world of music at a very young age and never left it.

With her acoustic bass, twice the size of her, you start to think if it will tip her over. But she begins to strum the strings with such grace and thoughtfulness you can see that her partnership to the instrument, neither one owns the other. She slowly lays her partner down and begins to drum it. She walks around the stage in search of anything to pick up and make music from. With microphone in hand she stands in a dance trance summoning Nina Simone, Clora Bryant, Mary Lou Williams, Big Mama Thornton, then all at once she reaches for her voice as Miles Davis would reach for his trumpet, keeping in control, yet letting go when necessary.

She scats, bebops, sings in many different languages and reinforces the voice as one of our most powerful instruments just as Abbey Lincoln showed the world in Max Roach’s civil right album “We Insist.” The musical sounds produced from her voice alone brings alive Ornette Coleman’s belief that jazz should remain without boundries, always open for change. Esperanza Spalding live is not just a concert, but an opportunity to witness jazz’s past, present, and future. Esperanza Spalding is one of the few people in music today who plays her voice and sings her instruments.

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