Esperanza Spalding presented her alter ego Emily last night at Berlin’s UdK main hall. Her new show, called “Emily’s D+Evolution”, is part theater, part musical, and autobiographical. Emily is Esperanza’s middle name and D+Evolution refers to, according to an interview she did earlier this year with the Village Voice, “the nonsense notion that organized education is the only way to learn anything.”
“I never really had good grades. My intelligence and love for learning was never reflected in my grades…ever. But I love learning and growing, and I’m always moving forward.” And so, this nonsense notion also is reflected during her performance when she gets her grades and throws them away. The pure sound of just her, Matthew Stevens on guitar and Justin Tyson on drums is heavily organic, bombastic sometimes.
Her two background vocalists, Nadia Washington (also playing guitar) and Corey King (also on keys) not only provided the backings, but emphasized the story told by the group’s leader. Their vocals were at times pretty soulful and then again angry and rock-like. There were pieces where bass, guitar, and drums played almost grueling parts, other tracks leaned more towards musical theater, especially those where Esperanza played the piano. I have to admit though that many of the lyrics were hard to understand; either because of the acoustics or because she was simply too fast.
But the music made up for any lost grounds and the grand finale, “Unconditional Love”, promises a more than interesting road ahead for her. Her singing was flawless, intelligent, otherworldly. An album will be released in the new year.
I think some of the people in the audience were expecting something completely different. Others seemed totally lost. Like this pair sitting next to me. He leaned over and asked me: “Excuse me what’s the name of the group?” “Well, the group’s leader is called Esperanza Spalding“. “OK and are they the only band playing tonight?” A few minutes later they left, missing more of this choreographed weirdness that took everyone else on an adventurous 75-minute journey.