Esperanza Spalding casts a spell

Tomorrow night, 10/10/10, SF Jazz is having one of its higher profile concerts of their fall season- Esperanza Spalding performing with Chamber Music Society at Davies Symphony Hall. Spalding created quite a stir when she appeared here last year, and some of the recent reviews I've read of her shows in preparation of this tour make it sound very enticing. Just on musical abilities alone Spalding is an intriguing figure- she's fabulous vocalist- with a range that at times reminds one of Astrud Gilberto and others of Flora Purim. Not that it's a Brazilian sound- Spalding was born and raised in Oregon, but is certainly has the loose fluidity found in those singers.


Espernze Spalding. Copyright Sandrine Lee and Montuno Producciones

Her voice is just half her arsenal. She's also a supremely gifted bassist. In fact she's a prodigy. Picking up the violin at age 4, within a year of teaching herself the instrument she was performing at age 5 with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. At 15 she was their concertmaster. At age 16 she entered college, then crossed the country and enrolled in the Berklee School of Music. In 2005, at age 20 she was hired as an instructor after completing their program. That same year she was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship. She still only 25 years old.

Her latest album, Chamber Music Society, is a beguiling record that took me a couple of listenings to really grasp and the more I listen to it the more fascinated I am by it. Backed by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Leo Genovese, the album also features the string trio of Entcho Todorov on violin, Lois Marlin on viola and David Eggar on cello. Starting off with "Little Fly" featuring the poetry of William Blake set to Spalding's contemporary, deliberated, slow jazz work-out, at first it's enigmatic. Next comes "Knowledge of Good and Evil" and here's where for me Spalding gets really fascinating. With the traditional jazz trio accompanied by the strings, she's creating a hybrid, that takes elements from classical and jazz and melds them together without any seams showing. When Spalding scats and then soars with an elevated soprano towards the end of the piece, while Marlin's viola saws away underneath her, she's crossed over into a territory that's all her own. From here on the album only grows stronger, richer and more varied. It turns and twists into places you don't see coming- especially in songs like "What a Friend," where the tempo shifts are constant but just seem right at every turn- and they turn a lot.

I have a strong feeling the show tomorrow night is going to be the same way. Last I heard there were still tickets available. Don't say I didn't tell you beforehand- this is likely going to be a highlight not only of SFJazz's fall festival, but it may likely be one of the Bay Area's most significant concerts of the year.