Going to an Esperanza performance post Grammys evokes a similar feeling as Obama’s presidential win shortly after the 2008 elections. All music aside, the commentary from the audience at this Saturday’s performance at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Nahway, New Jersey, was more than an admiration for her technical prowess, but the collective rejoicing of her triumphant moment at the 53rd Grammys where she won Best New Artist. Phrases tossed in the symphony hall, such as “Get it girl!” and “Do your thang”, as well as sporadic premature spurts of hooting before transitions are gestures of pride that few have seen during concert hall jazz performances for probably decades now, and the change is welcome; as are shows that include a large constituency of multi-racial/multi-ethnic/multi-generational jazz listeners. That, my friends, is what Spalding’s Grammy win is indicative of—a paradigm shift in popular culture that welcomes authenticity, cultural nuances, and most of all—musical ability.
This of course is only possible because Esperanza herself is a product of a myriad of cultural influences that she joins so effortlessly. Her ability to convey the minimalism of traditional chamber music, with the complicated jazz and Latin rhythm structures, such as “Really Very Small,” which uses two time signatures, is nothing short of daring. The juxtaposition of a chamber music ensemble backing her on stage, the jazz rhythm section with the pianist and bassist on the peripheries of the stage, and Esperanza front and center below a spotlight, as well as the interspersing of guest vocalists fading in and out of view, are all conveyed with supreme tact and elegance.
Beginning her performance with the intro track to Chamber Music Society, “Little Fly”, Esperanza’s commanding plucking walking bass, and her meandering soprano scatting solos captured the attention and curiosity of an audience, many of whom were being exposed to this world of music for the first time. The enormity of layers, between the string section, and the playful polyrythmic drumming, functioned to push Esperanza’s ferocious bass lines to a deeper sonic realm.
Another highlight was “Inutil Paisagem” accompanied by the barest of instrumentals by only Gretchen Parlato’s hand percussions; a tender moment of vocal volleying between the two vocalists showing the intricacies of not only vocal play, but with rhythms.
Few instrumentalists are equally talented at singing, and vice versa. Esperanza’s ability to share in the talents equally, as well as compose and arrange are a rarity in general, but to also be a visionary of this generation, is truly an ingredient for changing society. Esperanza’s music genuinely knows no boundaries. The examples thus far between classical, jazz, pop, and soon to be hip-hop in her anticipated 2012 release Radio Music Society, a new exploratory album that ventures into an entirely new combination of music set in this contemporary backdrop, will undoubtedly show an entirely different segment of our society the boundlessness of jazz music.
Photos by Deneka Peniston
Words by Boyuan Gao