Esperanza Spalding - Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (2016)

Esperanza Spalding
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Esperanza Spalding infuriated Justin Bieber fans worldwide by stunning the music world and winning the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist that Beliebers felt was Justin’s birthright. The irony there is that Chamber Music Society was actually Spalding’s third album, but the Grammy voters can be excused for not realizing that. Chamber Music Society, with its classical infusions and literary sensibility sounds nothing like her straight ahead double bass jazz debut, 2006’s Junjo, or the fusion and Latin tinged Esperanza.

Esperanza Spalding infuriated Justin Bieber fans worldwide by stunning the music world and winning the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist that Beliebers felt was Justin’s birthright. The irony there is that Chamber Music Society was actually Spalding’s third album, but the Grammy voters can be excused for not realizing that. Chamber Music Society, with its classical infusions and literary sensibility sounds nothing like her straight ahead double bass jazz debut, 2006’s Junjo, or the fusion and Latin tinged Esperanza.

Spalding flipped the script 180 degrees from where she was on Chamber Music Society for the funky R&B of Radio Music Society, and the alternative, rock, funk and folk heard on the new Emily’s D+Evolution sounds like it came from an entirely different person. Well, in a way it did. Emily is Spalding’s middle name and what she was called as a child when the bassist was a precocious and curious underachiever. Spalding freely admits that the creativity and intelligence that so often come through in her instrumental arrangements and lyrics were rarely reflected in her grades. Yet, she was always learning and growing – hence the title Emily’s D+Evolution.

Spalding’s penchant for evolution means that she likely loses some old fans even as she gains new ones, and I suspect that trend will continue on this record that moves her much closer to the alt-rock world than the jazz world with which she remains connected.

That’s not to say everything works on this 12 track record. The first three quarters is much tighter and focused than the last quarter, where “I Want It Now” finds the artist giving herself fully to youthful id. The track is jangling and discordant, and toward the end I just wanted to send the number to its room without dinner.

The album’s strongest track is “Ebony and Ivory” in large part because it best represents what is Emily’s D+Evolution’s biggest surprise – Spalding strength as a rock vocalist. She moves from a monotone and robotic sound on the chorus to a girlish innocence in the verses. On the folk-rock influenced “Noble Nobles” Spalding vocally channels Chrissy Hynde while the singer shifts into a higher vocal register on “Unconditional Love.” That track is driven by Spalding’s funky yet smooth bass playing and energetic percussion work. The tune itself celebrates two people who are willing to step into different roles because they are bound by a strong and abiding love.

Spalding’s resume as a Grammy winner, educator and one of this generation’s “jazz saviors” certainly marks her as a late bloomer, and while Emily’s D+Evolution lags at the end, the high quality work that characterizes the first three-fourths of the record will get her on the Dean’s List with a very solid B. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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