Album review: Esperanza Spalding - Chamber Music Society

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© Johann Sauty
Posted: Mon Feb 14 2011

Coming on like the lovechild of Joni Mitchell and bass legend Charles Mingus the outrageously talented US bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding's sophomore release is a shimmering string-laden album of song-orientated jazz. She's come along way since her days as a precocious youth in a poverty stricken ghetto in Portland, Oregon.

A self-taught violinist, (she was a member of Oregon's Chamber Music Society), a switch to double bass aged 14 saw her progress quickly to Boston's prestigious Berklee college of music, where upon graduating was asked to become a tutor there aged just 20. She's since avoided the pitfalls of being marketed as a 'Black Norah Jones', this lush suite consolidating the promise of her scattergun debut.

Ambitious from the off, Spalding draws on her classical and jazz roots, weaving Latin, Brazilian (the stunning 'Apple Blossom' with Milton Nascimento), and funky swing into the mix, making light work of singing William Blake's poem 'Little Fly' over an achingly lovely backdrop of string quartet and thudding double bass. Her voice is impressive too, be it breathy and soulful, or jazzy and wild, it's as rich and resonant as her bass playing. Which is also top notch. Yet any high-minded aspects are offset by Spalding's gutsy central performance (and that of stunning pianist Leo Genovese) via lush production and the kind of melody-drenched material befitting the arrival of jazz's next big thing.

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