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Esperanza Spalding – Radio Music Society (Review)

Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

ESPERANZA Spalding has previously spoken of her affinity for exploring song forms and melodies and this passion is in full effect on her latest album, Radio Music Society.

Sadly, it works against it as the LP has that jazzy experimental vibe about it that virtually excludes all but the most ardent jazz fan. And that’s a shame given the quality of Spalding’s smooth vocal delivery.

Radio Music Society is described as a companion rather than a sequel to Spalding’s previous record, Chamber Music Society, which garnered critical acclaim and topped jazz charts around the world.

It errs more towards pop apparently but I struggled to find much to grasp onto even during the lead single, Black Gold, which toys with the format and maintains a jazz backdrop.

As Spalding says: “On the pop 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.”

In the case of Black Gold, the latter part of that sentence is more pronounced, even though the record itself is graced with a terrific set of vocals.
Elsewhere, the album utilises the combined talents of Spalding’s vocals and a number of musicians, from hip-hop luminary Q-Tip to jazz legends including Joe Lovano, Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart. There’s also room for guitar legends Jef Lee Johnson and Lionel Loueke and an array of vocal luminaries including Lalah Hathaway and Gretchen Parlato.

Esperanza describes the ensuing collection as her most diverse yet. True, it flits from virtually a capella moments such as Land of The Free to collaborative moments such as Crowned & Kissed (Zobler) via breezy jazz moments such as I Can’t Help It.

But it only rarely came alive and escaped its resolutely jazz instincts on a couple of occasions… and even then barely so. Hold On Me begins with a great trumpet fanfare before settling into a sultry piano standard, with Spalding’s vocals at their most seductive, while Smile Like That has a disarming quality that invites you to nod your head along in smile inducing appreciation.

Sadly, those moments weren’t enough to win me over as a whole.

Download picks: Hold On Me, Smile Like That

Track listing:

  1. Radio Song
  2. Cinnamon Tree
  3. Crowned & Kissed (Zobler)
  4. Land Of The Free
  5. Black Gold
  6. I Can’t Help It
  7. Hold On Me
  8. Vague Suspicions
  9. Endangered Species
  10. Let Her
  11. City of Roses
  12. Smile Like That