Seven collaborative and five solo albums into her career at 31, Esperanza Spalding has always resolutely, intuitively, deftly expanded upon both her art and herself as a world-renowned genre- bending composer, bassist and vocalist. Spalding’s work, grounded in jazz traditions but never bound by them, has won her four Grammy awards and brought her onstage at the Oscars, the Nobel Prize Ceremony, the White House, and with Prince and Herbie Hancock. Not only does she know who she is, we know who she is.
Or, rather, we think we do. The elastic self and work of a true artist is always changing; ideas are channeled, shape-shifting becomes necessary. Emily’s D+Evolution (pronounced “d plus evolution”) is where we meet Emily—both Esperanza’s middle name and the label for the spirit- muse that flows through this multi-dimensional, theatrical performance artwork wrapped in a brilliantly urgent, vivacious record. With 6 tracks co-produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie) and drawing, at times, from wellsprings as disparate as Cream to Shostakovich to St. Vincent, Emily’s D+Evolution is a kaleidoscopic project; raw, honest, luminous.
"Whether you want to see it as devolution and evolution, and the place where they co-exist without one diminishing the other, or...barely having the tools that you need, but having to move forward, and having to keep moving," Spalding explained to NPR in a recent interview, the album conceptually addresses the always exciting, sometimes messy process of reconciling the aspects of our selves that are in conflict. Exploding with literal and proverbial electricity, this album’s complex but immediate compositions were committed to tape partially live, and partially in front of a control room packed full of 20 or more onlookers. The trio of Spalding (fretless electric bass and vocals), Matthew Stevens (electric guitar) and Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins (splitting drum duties) often decided to use the first take—a testament to the project’s particular energy and Spalding’s virtuosity. Many of the compositions on Emily’s D+Evolution were, after all, incubated onstage during the rigorous live performance schedule that preceded it.
Armed with the entity of Emily flowing through her, Spalding’s visionary performance of the album is an experience to behold and an integral part of the project itself. Here, Spalding is, for the first time, incorporating stage design, movement and acting into her already vivid musical storytelling practice. She’s working with stage director and playwright Will Wiegler to manifest her concepts physically now that they’ve come to life aurally.