Radio Music Society
Esperanza Spalding
7.5/10

After her previous and somewhat understated release, Chamber Music Society, singer and virtuoso bass player Esperanza Spalding has moved into rather more uptempo realms for her new disc. Her supple vocal style puts me in mind of pianist Patrice Rushen—whose delectable Forget-me-nots song was adapted to become, somewhat incongruously, the Men in Black theme—while the arrangements on Radio Music Society are reminiscent of the jazz scores that Joni Mitchell produced with members of the Crusaders and Weather Report (Spalding even covers a Wayne Shorter song). It is, I think, not an exaggeration to declare the newer CD a significant development on the last: Spalding’s touch is lighter, without foregoing any of the bitter/sweet flavour of her memorable songs, and her band are notably tighter and more edgy. Her lyrics contain a modicum of social comment, as in ‘Land of the Free’ and ‘Black Gold’, but there is none of the savage incisiveness of a Meshell Ndegeocello; instead Spalding aims for, and mostly succeeds in achieving, a sense of wistful regret. I am always particularly impressed by her sinuous bass playing which underscores the harmonic mobility of the music, giving the disc a real sense of momentum, driven from behind by her two highly sophisticated drummers, the great Jack DeJohnette and the seemingly ubiquitous Terri Lyne Carrington. The distinctive cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I can’t help it’, with delicious sax playing from guest Joe Lovano, confirms her musical heritage. Gentle, intelligent, colourful—this is a CD to savour.

Review reprinted with permission of Thomas’ Music.