Esperanza Spalding at Tanglewood
August 4, 2013 performance; by Dave Read
Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood was transformed Sunday evening into Ms. Esperanza Spalding‘s neighborhood; she is the phenom, who at age 4 made up her mind to have a life in music while watching Yo Yo Ma perform on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. A year later she had taught herself how to play violin; by 20, she was on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music; and in 2011 she won the Best New Artist Grammy, the first time it was awarded to a jazz musician.
Tonight, her neighborhood was the locale for a session of the Radio Music Society, comprised of a crackerjack 11-piece band, which takes its name from her 2012 double-Grammy release. The horn section was set up behind music stands covered by a giant radio facade. Ms. Spalding made her entrance a few moments after the band had begun laying down the hypnotic beat of Radio Song. A little later, she implored our indulgence while she got a few things off her mind, relating to “friends. family, loved ones…”. For most in the near-capacity audience, it was easy to assent to her wish, if not an outright privlege to attend to her artistry.
Going back and forth between upright acoustic bass and electric bass guitar, Ms. Spalding occupied a musical space that could evoke a range of progenitors from Willie Dixon, to Jack Bruce, to Ron Carter. And her singing is just as impressive and various, if not peerless. For an encore, she cut loose with some terrific scat in duet with pianist Leo Genovese, promising us that it would be an improvement over the previous night’s effort at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Over the course of nearly 2 hours, we were treated to an abundance of jazz that was so contextualized that if you zoomed in to a small fragment, it was indistinguishable from mainstream jazz, but when you relaxed and took the long view, the music was the dominant fragment of a larger work, and any number of sub-genres could be identified, from hip hop, to blues, to opera.
Yes indeed opera! A case could be made that opera is the most appropriate milieu for Esperanza Spalding. Besides her duly noted accomplishments as bassist, composer, and vocalist, she evinces a perfectly entertaining knack for story and drama – a sort of sturm und drang marked by a wink and a smile.
Radio Music Society followed Ms. Spalding’s Chamber Music Society, and after tonight’s performance, the last in the US, we’re left in eager anticipation of her next venture. Besides entertaining and delighting audiences, it’s probably a good bet also that she inspires young would-be musicians, because she exudes the same joy in performance as Yo Yo Ma does. How’s this for a coincidence? Mr. Ma was the featured soloist at this afternoon’s Boston Symphony Orchestra concert next-stage over in the Koussevitsky Music Shed!