Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution

Esperanza_Spalding_EmilyWhen singer, bassist and composer Esperanza Spalding brought her latest project to the stage last fall, I wrote about choreographed weirdness after seeing the Berlin concert (October 31st, UdK Hall). Esperanza has now followed her tour with the respective album, a 12-tracker just released on Concord Records. And it sounds like a Joni Mitchell record.

What worked very well on stage during her 75-minute set, also works pretty good on the album. It is totally different from the “Black Gold” and “Radio Music Society” days though and she has evolved into a consummate and multilayered artist. And it is always a good sign when you can’t categorize an artist and put her or him in a box. The music on the album sounds like a mixture between Prince, rock group Yes from the 70s, and Joni Mitchell. All held together by her charming vocals and groove-oriented bass playing.

Esperanza has worked here again with guitarist Matthew Stevens who is heavily featured throughout and brings a big portion of rock to the mix, and Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins alternating on drums. The similarity to the vocal colorizations and intonation of Joni Mitchell is enormous. Listen to “Unconditional Love” which really could have come out of the Mitchell book. And this continues throughout the album. Some Joni-isms are so profound that you wonder if she is actually covering a song or two here, which she of course is not (“Judas”).

The theatrical, kaleidoscopic set (Emily is her middle name) was partly produced by Tony Visconti and must be considered a concept album “and addresses the always exciting, sometimes messy process of reconciling the aspects of our selves that are in conflict”, as she recently said in an interview on NPR. The songs are consistently intricate, sometimes complicated, always astounding. And catchy nevertheless (“Rest In Pleasure”).

I found myself getting confused at times though simply because of the Joni Mitchell analogies. “Noble Nobles” is another example. It is pure Mitchell. As much as I like her new and fresh stuff, I much prefer her more soul-oriented music she so successfully showed us on her “Radio Music Society” album from 2012. And if you would ask me which song to drop from the album, it would have to be the ultra-constructed and quirky “Funk The Fear”.

Esperanza is on a US tour and here are some select dates:

3/10 Seattle – The Showbox

3/11 Portland – Wonder Ballroom

3/13 San Francisco – Mezzanine

3/15 Los Angeles – Belasco Theatre

4/12 Boston – Shubert Theatre

4/14 New York – Apollo Theatre

4/19 Washington – 9:30 Club

4/22 Atlanta – Center Stage




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