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Esperanza Spalding Chamber Music Society Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Her original compositions sound like standards already.

Martin Longley 2010

For a relative stripling, Esperanza Spalding is already well-schooled in the mysteries of jazz. It's rare for an upright bass player to be an out-front singer, and such an oddity is even less likely to be female. Nevertheless, Spalding effortlessly entertains from a physically disadvantaged position, projecting to the furthest corners of any concert hall.

For her third album, New Jersey resident Spalding has created a more intimate pleasure. Its title hints at the subtleties within: Chamber Music Society finds Spalding's accustomed quartet augmented by a string trio. Her co-producer also happens to be Gil Goldstein, one of the prime arrangers in jazz.

Spalding's original compositions sound like standards already, and her specialised interests are becoming more apparent with each disc. Brazilian music is central, as is a predilection for lyrics that look to nature, symbolising humanity through references to the seasons, as well as flora and fauna. The opening Little Fly sets a William Blake poem, and the following Apple Blossom and Winter Sun continue this thematic sequence, combining fatalism, melancholia and hope.

Knowledge of Good and Evil is the first of the album's strongly Brazilian-steeped tunes, acting largely as a vehicle for Spalding's scatrobatics. Her brightly skipping voice is well-suited to such verbal dynamics – it’s a fragile instrument, but not weak. These unfettered vocal excursions might sometimes range close to risking excess, but they're invariably well-contrasted with the string trio's framing. As if one scatter wasn't sufficient, Spalding is joined on this song by Gretchen Parlato, one of the quirkier new jazz singers on the block.

Spalding introduces vocal overdubs on Really Very Small, prompting some impressive layering. Her keyboardist Leo Genovese contributes Chacarera, revealing that he too is spellbound by Brazil. David Eggar's cello solo features strongly, and the music of Argentina's Ástor Piazzolla also appears in the clunky angularities of the strings. There are endless details in the production, which is rife with string flourishes and percussion minutiae. Spalding doesn't overdo the bass solos, but there's a particularly nimble example during Winter Sun.

Milton Nascimento drops by for a duet on Apple Blossom, with the two singers exchanging roles of high and low-voiced parts. What a Friend is very reminiscent of Airto and Flora Purim's style, once again painting images of Brazil. Then, to crown the whole experience, it's down to Rio for a very minimalist interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's delicately tiptoeing Inútil Paisagem (Useless Landscape).

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