We’re going to do two reviews a week here – one of a new album (less than a year old) and one of an older album. We also thought it’d be cool if our reviews took the form of a discussion, with humor and personality, rather than a dry essay. Our throwback album review this week is of Esperanza Spalding’s 2010 album Chamber Music Society. Click “continue reading” to check it out.
Esperanza Spalding is a jazz singer, bassist, and cellist. She won the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist, and is the only jazz artist ever to have won. She began performing in her hometown of Portland, Oregon at age 15 and has become one of the most prominent young jazz performers today. On Chamber Music Society, her third album, she stays true to its name and fuses a strong classical influence with her jazz compositions.
Oscar: Yeah, give me one second.
Zen: No problem.
Oscar: OK yeah I’m ready. What were your general thoughts? I’m asking you first because I have very few thoughts about this album.
Zen: One moment, walking the homies out.
Zen: OK, back. With birthday cake.
Zen: Anyway. So. Now that I have cake in my system I am fully equipped to answer how I felt. I felt that it was very beautiful and I got lost in the beauty quite a few times. I also think I became bored by the beauty quite a few times. What was your initial reaction?
Oscar: I agree with your second statement. Well, kind of. I liked the second half a lot better than the first half, especially on the second listen.
Zen: I agree. I liked how the rhythms really started to groove in the second half.
Oscar: The whole first half was just so pretty and light and airy that it was like can you just swing please?
Zen: Exactly. I could dig it for a song or two, but then I wanted her to tap into her giant afro side and get things funky.
Oscar: A lot of the stuff in the first half felt like all these unrelated runs the players were choosing to go on independently that didn’t quite work as pieces of a whole.
Zen: That thought entered my mind too, although the first time Esperanza did her run along with the violin, I thought it was magical.
Oscar: I don’t remember the moment you’re referencing but I believe you.
Zen: I don’t blame you. You could pick any of the beginning half of the album and find those magical moments. But there’s always too much of a good thing. Out of curiosity, why did you pick this album?
Oscar: Because I rediscovered that “Inútil Paisagem” video on YouTube that I posted and became more curious about her stuff.
Zen: Good reason.
Oscar: One minute, I’m gonna go pee. OK
Zen: I hope you enjoyed your urination.
Oscar: It was wondrous.
Zen: Little shiver down your back?
Oscar: Many. So what were your top 3?
Zen: “Winter Sun.”
Zen: I loved Esperenza’s bass playing on that track. I thought it was really tasteful and funky. I was also happy the crew picked up the pace.
Oscar: Yeah, word.
Zen: “Inútil Paisagem” second. Once again I loved the bass, and liked that even though they slowed down the tempo, the bass kept things moving along. Also, I’d just like to admit that by the end of the album I definitely developed a crush on Miss Spalding.
Oscar: Really, how come?
Zen: There were many moments where I was just blown away by her voice and her level of technique. And being a person who loves a good bass, my heart went out to her. Plus how could you resist that afro?
Oscar: All good points. I mean personally I’m all about Lianne la Havas right now but I can get down with your choice.
Zen: That’s unfair. Lianne is definitely closer to your age than Esperanza is to mine.
Oscar: Hey, what’s 4 years between friends?
Zen: Ah well. Anyway, my 3rd choice would be “Wild Is The Wind.” I totally dug the deep string section, and it was a nice change of pace when Esperanza leaned into her voice and gave it some growl.
Zen: Your top three?
Oscar: Top is “Wild Is the Wind,” mostly because I was so goddamn thankful when they finally got into that groove I almost cried. And I thought it was a very cool, dark groove. It gave a kind of demented quality to the song, while staying jazzy.
Zen: Yeah. I became quickly overwhelmed by the happiness and light in the album that I was thankful for the darkness.
Oscar: Yeah. Number 2 is “Winter Sun.” That was what I would have liked 80% of the album to be like. Everybody does their cool runs and tricks, but they work together much tighter, they swing, and she exercises her cool chords and rhythmic speed-ups and slow-downs and shit, but it doesn’t feel like aimless vocal/instrumental flailing.
Zen: If we were in a fight and someone insulted what you just said, I’d definitely have a friend hold my glasses while I defended you.
Oscar: Your new Warby Parkers?
Zen: Gladly. That’s how much of a good friend I am to you and how much I wished the rest of the album was like Winter Sun.
Oscar: Good to know. Third is “What a Friend.”
Zen: That would have been my 4th.
Oscar: I think the first half does the slow, loose thing the way it should be done, and the second half does the fast, tight thing the way it should be done. And the repeating vocal run/riff thing is really cool. Bottom 3, as I go get pie?
Zen: Goddamn, how much water have you consumed?
Oscar: Get pie, not go pee. Like food. Fruit, crust, etc.
Zen: Sorry, I just assumed you had a damaged bladder
Oscar: Oh, I do, but that’s beside the point.
Zen: Probably number 1 would be “Apple Blossom.”
Zen: It’s not a bad song by any means, but it goes under the category of collaboration type songs that I am really, really not a fan of. It was hard for me to finish the whole thing.
Oscar: Yeah, I agree.
Zen: “Knowledge Of Good And Evil” probably next. It was determined to be a cock tease and never fully get it’s feet groovin’.
Zen: Which could be argued as Esperanza’s way of easing the listener into the album, but it wouldn’t have been my choice.
Oscar: I’ll agree with that.
Zen: Plus, it was too long without being cohesive enough.
Oscar: It was the worst offender in my opinion of the instruments all doing independent things.
Zen: Yeah. Especially since jazz is all about being in the same vibe.
Oscar: Word. Like, if you guys are all gonna do different things, what’s the point of being in a group?
Zen: Exactly. Last would be “Short And Sweet.” “Inútil Paisagem” should have been the closer in my eyes.
Zen: “Short And Sweet” felt like a reprise from the beginning without really adding or changing much. Your bottoms?
Oscar: Yeah. My bottom would be “Little Fly.” When I first heard it I was like “Oh God, is the whole thing gonna be like this?” Instrumentally it has the same problem as “Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Lyrically it’s so goddamn cutesy I can’t fucking stand it.
Zen: That was my 4th bottom.
Oscar: Second would be “Apple Blossom,” for similar reasons to what you said. The guy I felt was not as strong as her vocally and so I wasn’t sure about some of the stuff she had him do. Normally I like dudes’ odd voices but his was not doing it for me. At all.
Oscar: Yeah. Third is, I guess, “Knowledge of Good and Evil,” for the same reasons you said. Although “Little Fly” and “Apple Blossom” were the only ones I really didn’t like. “Knowledge of Good and Evil” I nothing-ed.
Zen: I think nothing-ing is almost worse than not liking something.
Oscar: Almost. Anyway, favorite musical moment?
Zen: By far my favorite musical moment was when Esperanza sang that incredibly long note somewhere in “Wild Is The Wind.” I went butt-crazy for it.
Oscar: I’m not entirely sure about your usage of that phrase but I think it’s not incorrect, so let’s not worry about it. And that’s a very good moment.
Zen: I would disagree with you on this, but I think our time could be used better than debating how to best use “butt-crazy.”
Zen: What’s your moment?
Oscar: Mine is I think the run I talked about in “What a friend.”
Zen: Good choice.
Oscar: Lyrical I don’t have one but I feel OK about that since this album isn’t really about the lyrics.
Zen: Same here.
Oscar: Word. So I guess we should move on to scores. Unless you have any further questions?
Zen: Let’s keep it movin’. What’s your score?
Oscar: 6…. Point 6.
Zen: What caused the moment of doubt?
Oscar: Actually, I’m sorry, 6.3, because I really just think half of it was kind of a waste, but the other half was well-done. But I also acknowledge that that’s largely a matter of taste and not skill or whether the album was made well.
Zen: Well thought out score.
Zen: 6.5, for the same reasons you had. But I bump it .2 because I really do think she is a phenomenal musician, even if I don’t agree with her musical choices. Plus, the fact that she is making this real jazzy shit and people are responding and she has a fucking afro makes me root for her.
Oscar: Yeah, that’s true. I’m definitely on her side, and I’d be curious to hear her latest album and see if she’s changed.
Zen: From the little I’ve heard, there is a big lean towards getting funky
Oscar: Good. Any final thoughts?
Zen: Mas funk, por favor.
Zen: Nothing more to add from me.
Oscar: Me neither.
Come back next week for our reviews of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… and Austra’s Olympia.