On one of the most beautiful nights this summer, Ravinia was lighting up with some great Jazz by one of its finest up-and-coming performers Esperanza Spalding. Esperanza is only 27 years old, and is already making a big stir on the Jazz scene, already having won a recent Grammy Award for “Best New Artist.” This concert really showed how she won that award.
The night started out as the amazing big-band she had with her started to play. For a 12-piece band all together, they blended so beautifully. The rich texture of sounds that came out of this group really showed. Key members of the big-band that really blew my mind were saxophonist Tia Fuller, trombonist Jeff Galindo and trumpeter Igmar Thomas. Other key members of the group that really stuck out were pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Lyndon Rochelle.
The backup singers were fantastic too. Singers Chris Turner and Leala Cyr really helped Esperanza out by adding that blended vibe that this music really needed. Esperanza Spalding is one of the most unique Jazz singers/bassists I have ever seen. Not since Ella Fitzgerald have I heard “scatting” that good, and not since Stanley Clark have I seen such bass playing. I can see where she gets her influences from, yet at the same time she really stands her ground with her own sound.
You can tell Esperanza is a people person. She loves interacting with the audience. She loves telling stories. But instead of “telling” stories, she lets the music bring the story out, whether it was played by a saxophone or a trumpet, or scat-sung. Either way, she is a storyteller through music. Back in the 70’s, singer-songwriters started to emerge with singers like Cat Stevens, Laura Nyro, James Taylor and Judy Collins. The songs they write tell a story. Throughout the night Esperanza was telling a story of “love” and finding the right person. Through standout songs like “Smile Like That,” “Let Her” and “Crowned and Kissed,” she explained to the audience how men were kings, and it’s the right smile you find in your significant other that keeps you both happy.
Esperanza seems like a free spirited person; very laid back and cool. But she is also a big supporter of “Free the Slaves.” With songs like “Black Gold” and “Vague Suspicions,” she really emphasized how much she appreciates all kinds of races and human beings, like in “Black Gold,” saying “We’re all gold.” There was a point in that song when Esperanza asked how Chris Turner was doing, and he scat-sung so beautifully that he made the whole crowd at Ravinia go nuts.
Esperanza also did some great covers as well like Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” off of his Off the Wall album, and put words to Wayne Shorter’s classic “Endangered Species.” I have always been a huge Kurt Elling fan, because of his skill to put words to instrumental Jazz classics and his scatting, and now I think we have found the female version of him.
Esperanza closed out the night with a very catchy song about the radio, and how it is the greatest invention ever made called “Radio Song.” With a chorus like, “Now if you want to Sing it loud, with love, with love in your heart. Because you like to, because you need to. This song’s the one.” Everyone was singing that walking out of the park.
Overall, Esperanza is definitely a true talent and should not be missed when she comes in concert again. If you are a Jazz fan at all, or if you’re not and just want to experience some great talent, then you should really check her out. She currently has 4 albums out right now:
Chamber Music Society (2010) http://www.amazon.com/Chamber-Music-Society-Esperanza-Spalding/dp/B003OFHMKO/ref=pd_sim_m_2
Radio Music Society (2012) http://www.amazon.com/Radio-Music-Society-Esperanza-Spalding/dp/B005VR9C42/ref=mb_oe_a
If you can, pick one of these up, and I’m sure you’ll really enjoy what you hear. I know Ravinia sure did.
Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 6/25/12