Whether you’ve been following her for years in the jazz circuit, or were blatantly introduced to her at the Grammys in 2011 when she beat out Canadian young guns Justin Bieber and Drake for ‘Best New Artist’, or are just hearing about her now, one thing is for sure, Esperanza Spalding is a name to remember. The 27 year-old jazz bassist and singer released her fourth studio album, Radio Music Society on March 20, 2012.
The first half of this album proves to be quite different than much of her previous work, which some would say rang closer to a traditional jazz feel. Songs such as Radio Song stay true to their name in sounding like something you’re more than likely to hear playing on any alternative rock, “work day” station in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. This song is the first on the album, and may deter the more conservative jazz enthusiast from keeping the tracks running. However, the beauty of Spalding’s musicianship is her ability to fuse various styles and genres of music, thus pleasing people from all kinds of backgrounds and musical tastes. With diverse influences such as Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, and Madonna, it’s no wonder Spalding is able to marry jazz with pop and R&B so tastefully and impeccably. The second half of the album, with songs such as Smile Like That, and Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul, has more of a familiar, signature ‘Spalding’ sound, with heavy bass lines, smooth vocal tone, and easy drum grooves that will leave you tapping your toes while sipping that cool drink on a hot Summer night.
Much like her music, Spalding is quite the mix herself; her father is African-American, and her mother is Welsh, Native American and Hispanic. Growing up with such a diverse cultural background, Spalding aims to bring jazz back to its roots, it’s “street value” – to the forefront of the music scene, to be enjoyed by everyone, and not just the “seasoned art community”. No doubt, she’s been pivotal in recent years in accomplishing just that. We’ve seen her everywhere from the Grammys (much to the teeny boppers’ dismay), to exclusive performances at the White House, and most recently at this year’s Academy Awards singing Louis Armstrong‘s What A Wonderful World.
Spalding uses her musical platform and notoriety to draw attention to social justice issues. Songs such as Black Gold and Land of the Free, speak to racial and class tensions often seen in everyday life. These songs remind us that these sorts of issues are not just of the past; I am sure we can all recall a recent headline that had to do with racial inequality, violence, and discrimination.
Filled with heavy lyrical content, strong, eclectic melodies, and smooth vocal phrases, Radio Music Society is a great album. However, if your iTunes contains nothing but Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Rick Ross, you might want to save yourself the $9.99, because this album is not for you. Everyone else, however, should support this great musician and buy Radio Music Society. If you love what you hear (which we guarantee you will), then be sure to check out Esperanza Spalding at this year’s Toronto Jazz Festival. She’ll be performing live at Nathan Philips Square on June 28, 2012. We’ll be there, and so should you!
Octavia Ahsan is a writer/blogger from Brampton, a suburb outside of Toronto, ON. In 2010 she received a Bachelors degree in Science from McMaster University, and founded a charitable organization called CompassionActs. In March 2012 she founded The PODIUM, where she also serves as the Editor-in-Chief. She frequently writes for MilkandHoneyMedia.co.uk, a popular Christian girls blog based out of London, England, as well as her personal blog site OctaviaFaith.com. In her spare time, she likes to hunt for the best burrito in Toronto (Chipotle Mexican Grill holds the spot so far).