Esperanza Spalding is one of my favourite artists alive. She also holds a special place in the making of this website. It was in the summer of 2012, during a trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival to see her perform that the Winehouse Mag idea was born—a year later TWM was created. Though she was a stellar artist then, in the two years since I last saw her, she has become even more assured and captivating.
Spalding is undeniably one of the preeminent jazz musicians in the world–in many ways, her talent, style and beauty has helped to resurrect jazz. In 2006, with her debut album Junjo, she began to change the face of jazz from an archaic stodgy genre, to something young, glamourous and exciting again. Many may recall that in 2011, Spalding unexpectedly won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist–she received death threats from Justin Bieber fans, but major support from the music community and music lovers at large, who recognized that her talent was one worthy of big recognition (and built to last). Since, Spalding has gone on to tremendous success.
Her recent concert is part of a special two-week “Thank You October” tour to celebrate her birthday month—Spalding turns 30 on October 18th.
Her Toronto show began with little fanfare. Drummer, Lyndon Rochelle, took the stage first, giving us a little intro on the drums. Soon, the tiny and gorgeous, Spalding, with that magnificent mane of hair that deserves its own Instagram account, tiptoed gracefully onto the stage, lifting her cascading petal dress. Later, her pianist, Leo Genovese, joined the pair, and the three long-time collaborators went on to perform over an hour and a half of brilliant music.
Spalding has a whimsical presence and a luxurious voice–fantastic octave range as well–that is so velvety and warm that you immediately sink into it like a cashmere blanket on a feather bed. Aside from a sip or two of water, she took no breaks until the show ended (following her second encore)–a feat that artists like Mariah Carey should take notes on.
Side Note: Ten years ago, I saw Mariah Carey in concert. Carey spent such an inordinate amount of time chatting with the audience, bringing fans to the stage, reading letters, and changing outfits, that during one of her many pauses and interruptions, fed up fans began to boo. It was the last time I saw Carey in concert.
Now back to Spalding…
Spalding is a confident, effortless, showman. She elegantly moved from bantering with her drummer to regaling the audience with stories. Moving from her upright bass to bass guitar, Spalding performed music from her albums, Junjo, Esperanza, Chamber Music Society, and Radio Music Society. While only singing a small selection of songs, each stretched up to 10 minutes long. Old favourites “I Know You Know” got the audience in the mood, but her spectacular take on Nina Simone’s “Wild as the Wind” and her silky seductive “All the King’s Horses,” which was slightly reminiscent of the great Nancy Wilson, left the crowd in awe. In the large venue, which was surprisingly not sold out (though she played as if it were), Spalding’s voice enveloped the audience, creating a gorgeous intimacy.
Though Spalding’s voice can illuminate R&B, and she does incorporate neo-soul, as well as bossa nova into her sound, it’s wonderful that she has married her musical gifts to the world of jazz, a genre that is more alive because of a new generation of artists, like herself, that are bringing it back to the forefront of mainstream music.