Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society [Deluxe Edition]

Or: why the “change” pocket in cargo shorts is truly, genuinely great and useful:

Said pocket holds an iPod nano nearly perfectly, which in turn holds the digital version of the above record, which in turn–

allows Radio Music Society to permeate me while I go about my normal day: washing dishes, vacuuming and whatnot

Radio Music Society is undeniably “pop” music (a term I’d normally consider an insult) at its very best (perhaps hence Esperanza’s recent Grammy win): innovative music with clever, inspirational lyrics, while still melodically memorable: it’s George Clinton– if he played bass, came from a jazz background, and wrote less-sexualized lyrics.

It’s adventurous, creative pop music– adjectives and nouns you rarely hear together.

Radio Music Society is also, pretty obviously, an attempted “crossover” record (from jazz to pop), though it’s pretty much successful in this regard (there’s no instrumentals; it’s all vocal-led pieces with a jazzy though pop-led sensibility):

“Endangered Species” is the best intro tune/ “crossover” example here: previously she just did the somewhat-famous Wayne Shorter piece (while singing the tenor sax line as scat); however,  now there’s intelligible lyrics (i.e., what’s normally called “vocalese,” which is normally a terrible thing, particularly in tunes like Monk’s “‘Round Midnight”) but in this case, it pretty much works.

With the “deluxe edition” (normally a semantic indicative of a cash-grab by iTunes or whomever), you actually get an hour-long video of the “making of” the record– and it’s worth getting in and of itself.

Specific tracks, you ask?

“Land of the Free,” which is just Esperanza and a bass with lyrics, is the most overly political tune here: It’s George Clinton + Scott LaFaro + Public Enemy, ca. 1988.

“Black Gold,” which I previously reviewed here, still holds up, and in general I really enjoy Spalding as a New Jazz Artist (especially since she’s a hot black chick playing bass guitar and singing!)– how is this not hot…?

On track six, “I can’t help it,” you get this lyric:

“Like a trip to heaven, heaven is the prize…” (featuring Joe Lovano, one of the few tenor guys of the last, say, 40 years, whose tone, via his $1000  custom-made wood mouthpiece, I angrily covet)….

“Hold on Me,” is Mickey Spillane (i.e., Dashiell Hammett over the top) as melody and mood… jazz as you probably think it is if you don’t listen to much jazz)….

Basically? She’s a “jazz”-borne ingenue, one who’s decided to write jazz tunes that a very-literate public will chat about while drunk….

Evaluate that as you will, for good, or for bad….


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