Esperanza Spalding ‘Radio music society’ (Heads Up/Montuno) 4/5

The unexpected recipient of a Grammy at the expense of pop idol Justin Bieber, bassist and singer Esperenza Sapalding is anything but your regular jazz artist and in reality her music does not fit neatly into any category which gives her an immediate accessability and a distinctive voice. Her previous album ‘Chamber music society’ was extremely well received and this new recording is an equally cohesive set of songs which will be at least as attractive to fans of contemporary black music as it will to jazz fans. An all-star guest list of musicians features singers Gretchen Parlato and Lalah Hathaway while instrumentalists of the calibre of Terri Lynne Carrington, Billy Hart, Jack de Johnette, Joe Lovano and Lionel Lueke provide the necessary supportive role. On this album there is a distinct 1970s retro feel with ‘Radio groove’, the de facto title track, reminiscent of both Minnie Ripperton in the vocal phrasing, Manhattan Transfer in the use of harmonies, and some wonderful Latin piano vamp into the bargain. The boundaries between jazz and soul are constantly crossed with ease on this new set as illustrated on a interesting reworking of a slow burner song from Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the wall’, ‘I can’t help it’, with creative use of vocals and lovely tenor saxohpone from Lovano. A heavyweight funk influence is present on ‘Cinammon tree’ with gorgeous cello intro that leads into the heavy bassline. This is a possible radio hit. Spalding’s iconoclastic tastes are exemplified further by a cover of a lesser known 1980s Wayne Shorter piece ‘Endangered species’ with guest vocals from Lalah Hathaway. The finest vocal piece for Spalding comes on ‘Black gold’ and the staccato mid-tempo groove sounds like a classy 1970s album track from Chaka Khan who may well be one of several influences on the young musician-singer. As an in-demand musician Esperanza Spalding’s recent CV is impressive to say the least and takes in pianists Gerri Allen and Herbie Hancock, vocalist Corinne Bailey Rae and tenorist Joe Lovano. Even Prince is reputed to be a fan of her music. The extremely eclectic nature of Esperanza Spalding’s musical ambitions is revealed here and this album promises to win her wider recognition beyond the confines of jazz even though the music is still firmly rooted within that tradition.

Tim Stenhouse