While many artists choose to name their first release after themselves, perhaps it has never more appropriate than for Esperanza Spalding. After all, the album is very much about her. It would be easy to listen to the music on Esperanza and enjoy her silky smooth voice and cleverly-delivered lyrics. But finding out that she is delivering the Latin jazz bass lines along with the vocals is enough to cause one to do an audio double-take. Throw in the fact that she wrote and arranged most of the songs on the album and by now, and all ears should be at full attention.
Her picture on the album cover foreshadows the next surprise; Spalding is 23 years young. She entered the Berklee College of Music at 16, and after devouring all the instruction that could be thrown at her, became the youngest professor in the renowned school’s history. It would be a small wonder if she had released an album that wasn’t good.
The album starts off with a fairly well-known song from the jazz world, “Ponta de Areia,” made famous by Wayne Shorter back in the ’70s. Spalding delivers the vocals in Portuguese, which she speaks along with Spanish and, of course, English.
Much of the album is similarly diverse, although it doesn’t stray too far from jazzy themes. “I Know You know” and “Fall In” both show off Spalding’s romantic side, although the former is upbeat and the latter much mellower. “I Adore You” is less a love song and more of a vehicle of bold vocal improvisation. The rest of the album contains fine vocal and instrumental performances as she has picked her supporting cast well. She gives a unique treatment to the standard “Body and Soul,” singing it in Spanish, and also does her own unique interpretation of “Samba.”
Taken at face value, Esparanza will appeal most to fans of jazz in general, and, more speficially, Latin jazz enthusiasts. However, Esperanza Spalding’s background and skills merit special notice because of the limitless potential she has in the wider world of musical performance.
Esparanza is out now on Heads Up.