Esperanza Spalding releases her new record, Radio Music Society, today on Heads Up International. While some people may not have heard of this young, talented multi-instrumentalist, she received plenty of attention when she won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, making her the first jazz artist to win the award. She also performed “What a Wonderful World” at last month’s Oscars. Esperanza drew her earliest inspiration from Yo-Yo Ma when she saw him perform on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when she was four years old. That appearance by Yo-Yo Ma had an immediate impact as she decided to pursue a career in music and by the time Spalding was five, she had taught herself to play the violin and was playing with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. She had originally planned to study the cello, but a year at the Northwest Academy exposed her to the bass and changed her path.
Radio Music Society is Esperanza’s fourth record, following last year’s Chamber Music Society. The title of this new album is revealing as Esperanza’s music is all over the map. The music starts out with the terrific funk tune “Radio Song” which has been made into a video below. Over the course of the record, Esperanza touches on many techniques, from call and response to quick word play. Described unfortunately as a “crossover” record, listeners can find a bit of everything here without having to label it as something so trite. Fans will be delighted that Esperanza moves so well between styles, showing that she can handle any task. Her bass playing can be as funky as anything you’ve heard on electric bass and then delicately tender on the upright. She is also, of course, an accomplished vocalist who generates a lot of soul with her voice without getting carried away with vocal flourishes. There are a number of guests on Radio Music Society, including Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Wayne Shorter, Q-Tip and more. For someone who almost left Berklee College of Music for a career in political science, Esperanza has taken the jazz world by storm and she is already showing that jazz artists should not be afraid to think outside of the box.