Esperanza Spalding and her troupe made a Tucson stop at the Rialto theatre with her eclectic Emily’s D+Revolution tour on August 16, 2015. It was unique, masterful and a triumph!
Esperanza is one of the highly touted new jazz artists on the scene today. There was a lot of social media banter when she beat teen idol, Justin Bieber, at the Grammys in 2011 as the best new artist of the year. The other artists up for that award were Florence and the Machine, Drake, and Mumford and Sons. This was the first time a jazz artist had taken this award. All totaled, Spalding has garnered four Grammy awards in a short period of time.
Esperanza Spalding grew up in a poor neighborhood in Portland, Oregon reared by a single mother. She is of African American, Native American, and Hispanic heritage. This heritage has a direct influence on Spalding’s music as well as this show. Esperanza has played music since she was five years old and she plays violin, oboe, piano, clarinet, and double bass. By the age of twenty, she was teaching music at the College of Music in Berkley. From there, it was apparent that Esperanza Spalding had a lot to say with music. Her energy and skills were and are boundless.
Spalding created this tour to do something different, “to create another world” as she said in an interview. She wanted to play a sort of ‘surrealist poet.’ The show is a series of vignettes that create feelings, allow playfulness, but keeps the music in the forefront of the performance. As the recipient of this musical experience, I found myself overwhelmed and over analyzing what was being presented. There was a lot of stunning visual stimuli in addition to the explosive sound. Esperanza changed her hair, her clothes, and make up. A slide show was displayed in the background. The content started with an old restored photo of a Caucasian baby, then, followed with the same baby pictured with an dark-skinned African American female caretaker apparently holding the baby. (Maybe a reference to slavery.) The next slide was another restored old photograph of a Native American signing a treaty with soldiers surrounding the table. These photographs seemed to be a reference to Spalding’s heritage. In the forefront of the slides, Spalding was ferociously playing her bass and singing “Noble Nobles.” At this point, I had to remind myself to stop analyzing and start engaging in the musical experience. Spalding revealed later in the show that Emily is her middle name!
The supporting musicians were superb. Spalding played electric bass and keyboards during the show. She has the most nimble fingers on the bass that can be found. And it seems to be effortless while she sings. Corey King and another vocalist were on background vocals and keyboards, Matt Stevens played killer guitar and Justin Tyson was relentless on drums. As a band they were as tight as a band could get. There were episodes of guitar and bass dueling between Spalding and Stevens that were breathtaking.
The songs in the show were all new songs not found on any of Ms. Spalding’s other albums. Highlights included “Funk the Fear” with lyrics that encouraged the listener to overcome adversity and embrace their uniqueness. “Unconditional Love” was the finale and had the crowd singing along by the time her last phrase, “We could change the whole story of love.” Heads were bobbing in the audience even though this was all new, unheard material. It was as improvisational as jazz can get and that was what the fans wanted. The intimate show was filled with color, drama, and explosive music.
For a complete set list, click here.