Esperanza Spalding is coming off of a monster year, which started in February 2011 when the bassist became the first jazz musician in decades to win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist (and, much to our pure joy, beating out Justin Bieber for the honor).
That award was for Spalding’s 2010 release, Chamber Music Society, which reached number 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart.
Spalding is going for gold once again, with the release of Radio Music Society, dubbed her “most diverse, ambitious and masterful recital yet”. The album, due out March 20th, 2012, will feature 12 songs accompanied by conceptual music videos (digital download and deluxe CD/DVD editions), shot in various locations including New York City, Barcelona and Portland, Oregon
Spalding considers Radio Music Society to be a companion to Chamber Music Society, rather than a sequel.
“Originally I thought it would be fun to release a double album,” Spalding said. “One disc with an intimate, subtle exploration of chamber works and a second one in which jazz musicians explore song forms and melodies that are formatted more along the lines of what we would categorize as ‘pop songs.’ Those are the two things that really interest me, and it intrigues me to think about different presentation approaches while writing each kind of song. On the pop song side, I think about listeners who aren’t into jazz, but I also think about the people within my musical community who can interpret each idea best.”
The album kicks off with “Radio Song,” setting the tone for the album. “Everyone has the experience of turning on a car radio,” the bassist says, “mindlessly flipping through the dial and suddenly a fragment grabs you and you’re totally digging it. I wanted to capture that moment when the music just sinks in. It’s about the power of song, and how at the least it can save the day.”
Spalding combines her perspective on classic radio themes, as well as original music for the album.
“I have this book of music that I’ve written, and so much of it fit either the Chamber Music or Radio Music concept. Songs develop for me in fragments, so for these projects, I took my notes and organized them into coherent works of music.”
Radio Music Society‘s music covers a full spectrum of songs about love. One of Spalding’s older compositions, “Let Her” makes its debut on the record, inspired by “different people I’ve known who are in miserable situations, then complain when they end,” the bassist shares. “Cinnamon Tree,” was written to cheer up a friend, and Spalding’s belief that “the love between friends is just as important as romantic love.”
“Crowned and Kissed,” referencing King Arthur and Midas, is about “the unsung royalty in your life, men and women who quietly, every day do the most honorable things, and who deserve to be honored even if they don’t end up with castles and thrones.”
The edgy “Smile Like That” marks the moment a person realizes that his or her partner has developed other interests. “I’m saying, ‘Okay, I get it, let’s not beat around the bush,’” Spalding said.
Spalding even gets into the state of the U.S., and the culture, including the track “Vague Suspicions,” confronting “society’s short attention span and our habit of absorbing horrific events and celebrity gossip as part of the same media overload.” The shorter “Land Of The Free” speaks to “the sinister system of false imprisonment by outlining the case of one innocent victim who spent 30 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.”
“Black Gold” is written for “young boys of color”. “So much of our strength is drawn from resistance and endurance,” Spalding explains, “but black pride didn’t just start with the slave trade. I wanted to address our nobility, going back to our incredible ancestors in pre-colonial Africa. I remember meetings when I was in elementary school about being strong as young black women, and I don’t think the boys had those meetings. This song is meant to speak to those young men, and I imagined it might one day be something that a parent could sing to his or her son.”
Spalding brought on several musicians for the project, including longtime collaborator Joe Lovano, keyboard player Leo Genovese and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. The album also includes appearances by drummers Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart, guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Lionel Loueke, vocalists Algebra Blessett, Lalah Hathaway, Gretchen Parlato, Leni Stern and Becca Stevens, hip-hop artist Q-Tip (who performed on and co-produced two tracks), plus two Portland-based musicians, Janice Scroggins and Dr. Thara Memory, who served as mentors to Spalding when she was growing up.
“Art doesn’t thrive with too much analyzing and explaining,” Esperanza Spalding notes, “The idea of `radio music’ is very broad.”