EMILY’S D+EVOLUTION ALBUM BIO V1
“Ms. Spalding is still enamored of Wayne Shorter’s harmonic depth and Stevie Wonder’s melodic lift, but her frame of reference has broadened in salutary ways: ‘Funk Your Fear’ ha(s) the serpentine gnarl of a Funkadelic anthem, and ‘Noble Nobles’ brazenly evoke(s) Hejira-era Joni Mitchell.”–NY Times
“…a fresh artistic vision for the four-time Grammy winner, a daring tapestry of music, vibrant imagery, performance art and stage design.”–Ebony
“Emily’s D+Evolution is more than a recording project, it’s an awakening of her inner child. It’s an audio portrait stretching Spalding beyond music and into storytelling through acting, staging, and movement.”–Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls
Seven collaborative and five solo albums into her career at 31, Esperanza Spalding has always resolutely, intuitively, deftly expanded upon both her art and herself as a world-renowned genre-bending composer, bassist and vocalist. Spalding’s work, grounded in jazz traditions but never bound by them, has won her four Grammy awards and brought her onstage at the Oscars, the Nobel Prize Ceremony, the White House, and with Prince and Herbie Hancock. Not only does she know who she is, we know who she is.
Or, rather, we think we do. The elastic self and work of a true artist is always changing; ideas are channeled, shape-shifting becomes necessary. Emily’s D+Evolution (pronounced “d plus evolution”) is where we meet Emily–both Esperanza’s middle name and the label for the spirit-muse that flows through this multi-dimensional, theatrical performance artwork wrapped in a brilliantly urgent, vivacious record. With 6 tracks co-produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie) and drawing, at times, from wellsprings as disparate as Cream to Shostakovich to St. Vincent, Emily’s D+Evolution is a kaleidoscopic project; raw, honest, luminous.
“Whether you want to see it as devolution and evolution, and the place where they co-exist without one diminishing the other, or…barely having the tools that you need, but having to move forward, and having to keep moving,” Spalding explained to NPR in a recent interview, the album conceptually addresses the always exciting, sometimes messy process of reconciling the aspects of our selves that are in conflict. Exploding with literal and proverbial electricity, this album’s complex but immediate compositions were committed to tape partially live, and partially in front of a control room packed full of 20 or more onlookers. The trio of Spalding (fretless electric bass and vocals), Matthew Stevens (electric guitar) and Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins (splitting drum duties) often decided to use the first take–a testament to the project’s particular energy and Spalding’s virtuosity. Many of the compositions on Emily’s D+Evolution were, after all, incubated onstage during the rigorous live performance schedule that preceded it.
Armed with the entity of Emily flowing through her, Spalding’s visionary performance of the album is an experience to behold and an integral part of the project itself. Here, Spalding is, for the first time, incorporating stage design, movement and acting into her already vivid musical storytelling practice. She’s working with stage director and playwright Will Wiegler to manifest her concepts physically now that they’ve come to life aurally. Each track on the album, from the soaring ode to uninhibited self-expression “Good Lava” to the affecting, shimmery funk ballad “Unconditional Love”, Emily’s D+Evolution is rich, surprising and labyrinthian, yet classic and timeless, as if these songs have always existed out there in the ether. Turns out that Spalding just had to tune in to Emily to bring them here to Earth.
Four time Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding has, in the past decade of her illustrious career (which also involves having performed at the Oscars, the Grammys, the Nobel Prize ceremony, and several times at the White House), continually and brilliantly married genres, pushed boundaries, and created groundbreaking work. By anyone’s measure, Spalding’s accomplishments at 31 years of age have already eclipsed those of artists half a century older, yet it’s blatantly obvious that her artistic journey is a lifelong one that we’ve just begun to collectively comprehend.
Spalding is, as a composer, bassist and vocalist, expansive, iterative, shape-shifting, open, and progressively innovative. A voracious and magnetic performer, she is attentively studious towards what the process of playing live–whether sharing a stage with her own revolving ensembles, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae or Prince–presents to the structure of a song. That channeled energy runs through her recorded catalog of seven collaborative and five solo albums. The most recent, Emily’s D+Evolution, is out March 4th (Concord) and is a fresh artistic vision for Spalding–a daring tapestry of music, vibrant imagery, performance art and stage design. Co-produced by Spalding and Tony Visconti (David Bowie), the album is an electrifying take on the power trio, and is adorned with rich vocal arrangements and touches of synthesizer.
As the NY Times mentions in their 2012 post-Best New Artist Grammy profile, Spalding “has made her mark not just as a virtuoso jazz bassist or an effortlessly nimble singer but as an exotic hybrid of the two. The very nature of her talent is exceptional.” That same year’s release, Radio Music Society, debuted on the Billboard Top 10; The Guardian praised its “torchy swaggers.” 2010’s Chamber Music Society was infused with what NPR dubbed “an ineffable brightness”. Preceding that was her eponymous Esperanza album, performed in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Spalding’s 2006 debut, “JUNJO,” was called “a stunningly sophisticated yet playful set of acoustic trio jazz: rubbery bass, piano, drums and sexy Latin melodies harking back to the ‘70s Brazilian jazz of Flora Purim” by Rolling Stone–but 2006 is far from where Spalding’s life in music began.
Following an inspirational episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that featured Yo Yo Ma, Spalding pursued study of her first instrument, the violin, at a time when most children her age were just learning to read. At age five, she was playing with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon in her hometown of Portland. By the time she exited the group at 15 as a concertmaster, she was composing and playing acoustic bass professionally with local bands. The latter became the instrument most central to her work: she joined her first band as a bassist and vocalist, Noise for Pretend, the same year she left the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. Following the group’s run, Spalding became one of the youngest bassists at Portland State University. When that wasn’t ultimately a fit, she moved to and graduated from Berklee College of Music. Upon graduation at age 20, Spalding became the prestigious school’s youngest-ever instructor.
Through her groundbreaking albums, she is still teaching those who listen.