Expanding the Horizons of Radio Music

Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society
Esperanza Spalding
Radio Music Society (2012)

Esperanza Spalding, the young bassist, vocalist and composer who won the 2011 GRAMMY Award for Best New Artist, is back with a new album titled Radio Music Society. This new set of recordings shows why she was the right choice for the 2011 award. With Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding brings her beloved jazz to a wider audience.

The 11 songs on Radio Music Society come with conceptual short films, which communicate the stories behind each track. The videos were shot in various locations, including New York City; Barcelona (Spain); and Portland, Oregon. All videos are available to purchasers of Radio Music Society as a digital download or a DVD on the deluxe CD/DVD version.

Although Esperanza Spalding’s musical foundation is contemporary jazz, Radio Music Society crosses boundaries and reaches into the worlds of pop, neosoul, love ballads, gospel and even fusion. “Originally I thought it would be fun to release a double album,” she clarifies, “One disc with an intimate, subtle exploration of chamber works and a second one in which jazz musicians explore song forms and melodies that are formatted more along the lines of what we would categorize as “pop songs.” Those are the two things that really interest me, and it intrigues me to think about different presentation approaches while writing each kind of song. On the pop song side, I think about listeners who aren’t into jazz, but I also think about the people within my musical community who can interpret each idea best.”

The album opens with ‘Radio Song’. “Everyone has the experience of turning on a car radio,” she explains,” mindlessly flipping through the dial and suddenly a fragment grabs you and you’re totally digging it. I wanted to capture that moment when the music just sinks in. It’s about the power of song, and how at the least it can save the day.”

Although the entire album is excellent, highlights include the beautiful ‘Cinnamon Tree,’ where Spalding expresses that “the love between friends is just as important as romantic love”; and ‘Smile like that,’ where Spalding explores the outer boundaries of jazz.

Radio Music Society features an impressive list of regular collaborators and new names, including longtime musical partners Joe Lovano (saxophone), keyboard player Leo Genovese and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, as well as jazz legends Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart; guitar masters Jef Lee Johnson and Lionel Loueke; a wide selection of vocalists including Algebra Blessett, Lalah Hathaway, Gretchen Parlato, Leni Stern and Becca Stevens; Q-Tip.

Two Portland-based musicians are also featured, pianist Janice Scroggins and Dr. Thara Memory, who provided indispensable mentorship in Spalding’s youth. Four tracks include the horn section of the American Music Program, a youth jazz big band of musicians age 12 to 18 directed by Dr. Memory. “Both of them are phenomenal artists who aren’t well known outside of the Northwest,” Spalding emphasizes. “Janice Scroggins was, quite honestly, too deep for me when I was eight years old. She unifies completely the sounds of gospel, blues and jazz, our American roots music. And Dr. Thara Memory, the teacher I came up through, has dedicated his life to spreading the message of this music. I had to have his youth band on the record, because they’re part of my Music Society, too.”

With Radio Music Society, Spalding also celebrates the musicians who nurtured her talent and vision. “I’ve had the honor and blessing of working with so many phenomenal jazz musicians over the years,” she says. “As I’ve gotten to know them and their music, I’ve grown to love them as family and colleagues. I wished for an opportunity for us all to interpret songs together, so that they can be heard and received by a larger audience. All my personal heroes who are revered in the jazz world – like Joe Lovano and Terri Lyne Carrington – should be heard by a mainstream audience, because what they manifest in their music is so beautiful, sincere and uplifting. I think they literally bring good into the lives of the people who hear them. So I’ve tried to put together a program of music that speaks to the non-jazz listener, but can still provide a viable foundation for my jazz heroes to express themselves. Hopefully, people can enjoy all the elements of my music without being told which genres it is ‘supposedly’ a blend of. Everyone is invited to listen with no pre-conceived notions. It’s a journey. Think and feel for yourself. But, most importantly, enjoy!

Esperanza Spalding released her attention-grabbing album titled Esperanza in 2008 on Heads Up International. It was followed by her best-selling 2010 release Chamber Music Society. On February 13, 2011, Spalding became the first jazz musician to receive the GRAMM® Award for Best New Artist.

Art doesn’t thrive with too much analyzing and explaining,” Esperanza Spalding notes, “The idea of `radio music’ is very broad.”

Radio Music Society is an impassioned mix of jazz with various other forms; an outstanding recording by one of the great new talents in the contemporary American jazz scene.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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