“Radio Music Society,” (Heads Up) Esperanza Spalding’s fourth album,
is a defining statement that finds fertile middle ground between jazz and pop
music. It’s a concept record that counters your expectations about what you
might hear on the radio if Spalding programmed its content, and for her that
means smart music where the message is as important as the groove. With her
star on the ascent, Spalding has made a unique record about empowerment and
adulthood that builds on her impressive skill set and when you take it all in, you
can’t help think that she’s on her way to becoming a genuine superstar.
“Radio” recalls early records by Stevie Wonder (she includes
a delectable cover of “I Can’t Help It” here) that knitted together songs about
love, sex and relationships with dance tunes and stories about everyday life.
Those albums were cohesive experiences where the artist’s integrity was never
called into question, and Spalding has accomplished the same thing here. In
that sense, Spalding is a musician period, neither limited to pop nor jazz. Besides
her bass playing, producer and songwriting talent, Spalding’s an arresting
singer with a voice that is sweetly luminous. Singles like “Cinnamon Tree” “Black
Gold” and “City Of Roses” can be easy on the ears, replete with sunny hooks and
bumpin’ bass, but “Radio Music Society” goes deeper lyrically and takes a few
spins to absorb the full effect of her music.
Spring for the “deluxe” package if you’re buying or
downloading “Radio Music,” which includes a terrific DVD of short form hi-def
videos that integrate Spalding’s songs into a loose narrative. It’s clever and engaging and like nothing you’ve ever seen from an artist like her. You’ll
also get a glimpse of some of the jazz veterans that play on the recording -- saxophonist
Joe Lovano (she plays in his Us Five band), drummers Billy Hart, Terri Lynn
Carrington and Jack DeJohnette – but the production is pleasingly all about
Spalding and reinforces that she’s firmly in control of her destiny and music.
As a crossover project, “Radio Music Society,” is solidly accomplished on
Spalding’s own terms and she is decidedly no sell out. “Radio” is music for the
21st century – download it, hear it, watch it. (12 tracks; 57:58
Labels: Billy Hart, Esperanza Spalding, Heads Up, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, Stevie Wonder, Terri Lyne Carrington