Born in Portland, Esperanza Spalding advanced musically at a young age after her mother, a singer on the cusp of a professional career herself, noticed her daughter’s ear for music. Spalding later honed in on her musicality after witnessing a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode featuring Yo-Yo Ma. Eventually discontent with high school, Esperanza completed her GED and went on Portland State University before auditioning for and receiving a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music.
Having dialed in two Billboard chart-topping jazz albums with Chamber Music Society and Radio Music Society respectively, Concord Records and a new year have brought us Emily’s D+Evolution, the Oregonian’s fifth studio release. Produced by Spalding and Tony Visconti, known for working with David Bowie, Emily’s D+Evolution is the latest chapter in the inimitable career of the only jazz artist ever to win a Grammy for Best New Artist.
Spalding navigates uncharted, progressive waters on Emily’s D+Evolution, an album named on behalf of an alter-ego of sorts; a spirit inside of Spalding translated through music. Accompanied by Matthew Stevens on guitar, Corey King on keyboard, synthesizer, and trombone, and Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins on drums as well as various vocalists, Spalding composes a 12-track collage of capacity. She is quirky and quick to quell any sorrow. Self-admittedly piqued by fusion, Emily’s D+Evolution is the height of the once-prodigy’s polarity between rock and jazz.
“Good Lava,” and “One” exemplify the new territory best while still flaunting jazz flourishes. Matthew Stevens takes progressive jazz guitar to a Nels Cline level with frenetic fretwork and faint dissonance on a brief expedition at the tail end of “One.” He then harnesses a delightfully dark tone following the defiant spoken words of Spalding on “Ebony and Ivy.” Other tracks are more predicated upon what Esperanza does on bass and vocally like the elegant “Rest In Pleasure” and dainty “Farewell Dolly.” The cover to cover liquidity of the album’s vocals is entrancing, never more so than on “Noble Nobles.” With some of the finest bass work on the album, this track elicits an urge to listen to Joni Mitchell.
In a list ditch effort, the funk comes out to play on the final two tracks, “Funk The Fear” and “I Want It Now.” Another bass outburst, “Funk The Fear,” is a smoothie of potent falsetto and chanting. “I Want It Now,” an evident Willy Wonka rendition of Veruca Salt’s standard, plants the improbable seed of weirdness that would be a Wonka collaboration between Spalding and Primus. This finale is the brooding plateau of Emily’s D+Evolution as Esperanza achieves new vocal heights on this climactic rise to chaos with percussion and keys. While playfully venturing off in the midst of an established career, Spalding managed to rediscover herself and redefine the genre.
Recommended If You Like: Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, Christian Scott
Recommended Tracks: 5 (One), 3 (Judas), 2 (Unconditional Love), 4 (Earth To Heaven), 12 (Want It Now)