Last night, me and four friends had the pleasure of hearing Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society perform at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It was a terrific show. I am a fan, so I may seem biased. But my friends, none of whom are jazz fans, enjoyed the show too, and were very impressed with Esperanza's performance.
The Chamber Music Society album, which was released in August of 2010, is a very creative work. In it, Esperanza combines a Jazz trio with a strings- two violins and a cello. The result is a fresh and unique approach to jazz and popular music.
The concert itself was well performed; Esperanza herself is very talented- a terrific vocalist and ace bassist. She has a commanding stage presence and a warm, charismatic personality. Esperanza is really fun to watch in concert. She is pretty, performs barefoot, and she tosses her beautiful afro around as she bops her head to the music. She did a really funky dance to the song Chacarera (see a video of this song from last night's performance below).
I was extremely impressed with her upright bass playing. For this show, she did not play bass guitar. I have read one reviewer say that Esperanza's playing is reminiscent of Charles Mingus, a high compliment. She certainly is a virtuoso on the bass, despite her humble insistence that she is not yet a master of the instrument. Her upright bass playing is very fluid and melodic, technically flawless. As a bass player myself, I am inspired by Esperanza's playing.
The band also was excellent. They moved, they cooked, they rocked - to mix a bunch of metaphors- they were tight and in a groove all night. One of my friends who is not familiar with jazz was very impressed with how tight they were, "playing such a free form of music." Any professional jazz ensemble that is any good will play tight with improvised music, and the Chamber Music Society is no different.
This show was a jazz concert- make no mistake. The presence of strings is innovative, but it is still jazz- fusion jazz, and progressive - but true jazz. The presence of strings does not tame the jazz; rather, Esperanza's Chamber Music Society funks up strings!
The set list was simply all the songs from the Chamber Music Society, performed in a slightly different order than what appears on the CD. I think this may have been the order of the songs, but I am not sure, I didn't write them down during the show:
Knowledge Of Good And Evil
As A Sprout
Wild Is The Wind
Short And Sweet
What A Friend
Really Very Small
There was also a two song encore, featuring an original composition by Esperanza's pianist, Leo Genovese, kind a of Celtic jazz piece with strings! The other is Esperanza's love song, Fall In, from her second album.
The concert starts out with Esperanza appearing on the far right side of the stage. She takes of a coat and her shoes, and pours herself a glass of wine. She sits in a chair next to small table with a lamp. The light goes out, and the band plays a brief overture.
Esperanza then comes on stage and opens with Little Fly, a William Blake poem she set to music, sung beautifully. The band then launches into the Nature of Good and Evil, which is also the second song on the CD. This song, like others on the album, showcases her scatting talents.
I would pay to hear Esperanza sing the phone book, to utilize a cliche.
All the songs were wonderful, but I think that four really stand out for me.
Esperanza sat in a chair and sang Apple Blossom, and Leo Genovese replaced the guitar part from the CD version with some brilliant piano playing. It is a beautiful song.
What A Friend is a jazzy funky romp.
And then there is what I think so far is Esperanza's masterpiece, Winter Sun. The band rocked and Esperanza went nuts on the bass. The Bossa Nova bass line is so infectious. I could see the people all around me really getting into it.
Finally the other song that really stood out was the last song of the night, Esperanza's beautiful love song Fall In. She does not play her bass on it, but showcases her lovely voice, accompanied by Leo on the piano.
As you can see from the pictures, I got to meet Esperanza after the show. It was very brief, but she was very gracious about signing autographs and taking pictures with people. It was a pleasure to meet her.
There are already two Youtube videos posted of the performance from last night:
First, Esperanza's performance of Apple Blossom. Although it is an amateur video, and a person's head blocks our view of Esperanza in some parts, the sound is terrific, and captures one of the finest moments from the show.
Secondly, Chacarera, with Esperanza's excellent scatting abilities on display.
I was sitting in the 3rd row, in the orchestra pit, and this is pretty close to my view of the show - but I did not take the video - My hats off to Patrik, who did an excellent job capturing both of these songs!