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Esperanza Spalding: Emily’s D+Evolution

Mark F. Turner By

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Singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding has moved effortlessly between genres whether performing with saxophone great Wayne Shorter or releasing projects which have incorporated explorations in chamber and pop music. She's impressed fans with her beautiful vocals and expressive instrumental skills even though questions remain about her musical identity. Is she jazz, pop, or a fringe artist who won't be locked into any genre?

The answer to that question has no bearing on Spalding's talent and creativity which continues to blossom in Emily's D+Evolution, a project based on a song cycle and theatrical production prepared for live performance. It unveils yet another layer into her—outlandish modern art-pop swirled with funk, poetry, and some Jimi Hendrix psychedelia thrown in for good measure.

Centered on an alter ego which happens to be Spalding's middle name, Emily has come out to perform in a music playground that might be described as a 21rst century Alice and Wonderland complete with adventures. This time around the music is abstract and edgy as Emily is introduced in the sexy rocking tune "Good Lava" as Spalding sings the verses "See this pretty girl?; Watch this pretty girl flow." And flow she does in challenging and thought-provoking themes where topics reflecting on the true meaning of love ("Unconditional Love"), misconceptions of good and evil ("Judas"), physical attraction ("Rest In Pleasure") and a desire to get off of life's elevator in "Elevate or Operate."

Tunes like "Ebony and Ivy" are provocative with its rapid succession of spoken words (ochre, ivy, brick, and leather bound books built up by heavy lock crooks with unburdened minds of bastardized Darwinian logic) wrapped around a hip rhythmic tempo. The music is extremely tight; a trio setting augmented by background vocalists where everyone works as one unit. There are no lengthy jazz-like solos as the thrust lies in the whole production of Spading's inner workings of song forms with intricate vocals arrangements. Live sessions of the recording have included theatrical interpretations of the tunes and hand puppets. That's right, hand puppets.

As if to ignore detractors, the piece "Funk the Fear" delivers a defiant message with groovy interaction between Spalding on fretless bass and Matt Stevens's crunchy lead guitar and the lyric's repeating verses "Funk the Fear; Live Your Life; Cause in an instant it could be gone." It is most definitely the way Spalding delivers this unique recording.

Track Listing: Good Lava; Unconditional Love; Judas; Earth To Heaven; One; Rest In Pleasure; Ebony And Ivy; Noble Nobles; Farewell Dolly; Elevate Or Operate; Funk The Fear; I Want It Now.

Personnel: Esperanza Spalding: bass, composer, piano, primary artist, producer, synthesizer bass, vocals; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Justin Tyson: drums; Karriem Riggins: drums, percussion; Celeste Butler: vocals (background); Emily Elbert: vocals (background); Fred Martin: vocals (background); Katriz Trinidad: vocals (background); Nadia Washington: vocals (background).

Title: Emily’s D+Evolution | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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