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Esperanza Spalding

Once again I've been so busy I'm a bit late in reporting on all the fabulous music in town. Last Friday I saw Esperanza Spalding and the brilliant Brazilian composer, guitarist, and singer Guinga, as part of her SF Jazz four night residency. In truth, I should have seen all four, radically different groups, but back when I purchased the season tickets, the individual nights and musicians were TBA. Just turning 30, Spalding is a genius, and a leading light in new music. Comfortable in everything from straight ahead to funk environments, I'm fond of saying that she sings like Betty Carter, and plays like Ron Carter. And yet it took a duet setting with Guinga of his brilliant bossa tunes to make me realize just how flexible, and versatile, she is. Guinga first surfaced in the late 60's in Brazil, and was championed for many years by Ivan Lins. Like our own Willie Nelson, he was known primarily as a composer. With George Clooney good looks, the guitar mastery of Baden Powell, and the seductive voice of Dori Caymmi, it is a wonder he is not more famous. Perhaps his songs are too complex for mass market; they are more advanced, and even subtle, than Jobim's. Esperanza adores him, and the biggest surprise was her complete mastery of Portuguese! All combinations of guitar, acoustic bass, electric bass, guitar and vocals were explored - two consumate artists sitting side by side making magic. Esperanza's ability to become completely one with yet a different kind of music, and language was truly inspirational.
Friday night Esperanza Spalding and her 12 piece band Radio Music Society played as part of her 4 night residency at SF Jazz. They also played the Paramount in 2012 for SF Jazz in support of the group's first recording. Dedicated to the buzz one gets when hearing fresh music on the radio (for those of us that still do listen to the radio) Esperanza describes it as a blend of Brazilian, gospel, soul, and big band swing. She is undoubtedly one of the most technically gifted musicians in the world, both on bass and vocals. I first described her as a cross between Betty Carter and Ron Carter, and that still seems to fit. I once saw her roll over Ravi Coltrane at a McCoy Tyner gig; she and McCoy were miles ahead of the rest of the group. Radio Music Society has incredibly intricate arrangements (think Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke) that only Esperanza could sing and play along with. In truth, her acoustic bass playing was way more locked in than her electric. Her fast bop walks are a wonder of the world. Still, this is meant to be pop, albeit of a lofty order. And as brilliant as her playing and singing is, pop music is about the song. And crafting a pop song is a completely different skill. The band members were all very competent (you would have to be to read the charts) but only Leo Genovese on piano, and Carl block on trombone, are world class soloists. Every Spalding performance is a must see, but one wishes for something a bit more from Radio Music Society. What if Betty Carter sang on Bitches Brew?
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