Renowned bassist shows of her vocal skills
Esperanza Spalding, the Portland-based vocalist/bassist known for her intoxicating live performances, is technically stunning. Her ability to arrange music and command her accompanists is masterful, her bass-playing virtuosic and her voice can display a pantheon of sounds, shading from intimate whispers to high, hoarse wails. But sometimes that technicality is not quite enough, and Spalding’s latest album stumbles when she eschews her emotive abilities as a jazz performer, both vocally and on bass, in favor of obtuse, albeit well-executed, vocal experiments.
Songs like “Knowledge of Good and Evil” and “Chacarera” are both seven-plus minute trips through scat-singing jazz surrealism. Spalding is a wonderful storyteller and losing the lyrics robs her of much of her natural, easy charisma. These moments are raw and powerful but underwhelming when compared to the softer moments of the album. Her cover of “Inutil Paisagem” however, is beautifully balanced, as Portuguese lyrics slide between a Bossanova bass line.
Spalding’s voice is the warm heart of Chamber Music Society. Her best songs are anchored by that core, despite some experimental slips into the jazz deep-end. Spalding does better carving out a soundscape than acting like a sonic bulldozer. Still, Chamber Music Society is a fresh, slender album that shows both Spalding’s immense talent and the heart within it.