Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society (2012)

Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding Radio Music Society.jpg
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It’s a rare thing for someone to start a music review by giving a little love to a musician’s label. However, if I may be allowed to deviate from review etiquette, I’d like give a shout out to Heads Up Records. This comes after listening to Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding’s new project. The Cleveland based company has been putting out some pretty solid jazz and jazz infused soul for a while. The label first came to my attention when I got a copy of Philip Bailey’s Soul on Jazz in 2002, and I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing other CD’s by artists affiliated with Heads Up since joining the SoulTracks staff – including Spalding’s Grammy winning 2010 project, Chamber Music Society.

It’s a rare thing for someone to start a music review by giving a little love to a musician’s label. However, if I may be allowed to deviate from review etiquette, I’d like give a shout out to Heads Up Records. This comes after listening to Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding’s new project. The Cleveland based company has been putting out some pretty solid jazz and jazz infused soul for a while. The label first came to my attention when I got a copy of Philip Bailey’s Soul on Jazz in 2002, and I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing other CD’s by artists affiliated with Heads Up since joining the SoulTracks staff – including Spalding’s Grammy winning 2010 project, Chamber Music Society. After listening to the three records Spalding released for Heads Up since 2008 (her debut Junjo was released on another label),  it’s hard to imagine another label giving Spalding the kind of creative freedom that she gets from Heads Up. Other labels might have pressured the Portland native to make Chamber Music Society sound like Esperanza, and ride that horse until it fell over and ground all of Spalding’s creativity into the dirt.

Would most major labels have stood by and allowed their easy-on-the-eye jazz prodigy to make an overtly political song about the wrongly accused and recently exonerated Cornelius Dupree? I doubt it. That song, the gospel tinged “Land of the Free,” finds Spalding dispensing with her bass and issuing a eloquent critique of the American criminal justice system while accompanied only by an organ. The song ends abruptly with prison doors slamming shut. “Vague Suspicions” is another minimalist polemic. This time, Spalding sings about the things we allow our military and political leaders to do in our name while we escape into the world of “reality television.” “Home of the Free,” and “Vague Suspicions” show that Spalding has continued to evolve as a lyricist willing to take on the “big issues” – recall “Apple Blossom” from Chamber Music Society.

Spalding is at her best when she applies her soprano voice to affairs of the heart. She uses the balance of Radio Music Society to explore love in all of its many facets. “Black Gold,” as the accompanying short film will show, is a letter of love to the much-maligned black man. As love letters go, “Black Gold” is pretty funky. “Cinnamon Tree” opens with kind of violin work that listeners heard on Chamber Music Society, but then the song becomes a laid back modern R&B tune about the restorative power of connecting with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile.  The upbeat “Radio Song” describes how the right tune can make rush hour traffic jam a good thing, while “Crowned and Kissed” is a mid-tempo cut in which Spalding pledges her love to the man who is the king of her heart, and she straight up swings on the absolutely lush “Hold on Me.”

When we last saw Spalding she was accepting the Best New Artist Grammy in 2011 and incurring the wrath of Justin Beiber fans in the process. She’s emerged from witness protection to promote Radio Music Society. Ironically the songs from this record were recorded at the same time as the tracks for Chamber Music Society, but Spalding elected to hold off releasing them until now.  As fate would have it, the half she released won for her a much deserved Grammy. And the half she is releasing now could well yield her another. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes   

 


 

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