Esperanza Spalding: Joni Mitchell has been a major source of inspiration in my life, I think that's great that you hear that in the music. Joni Mitchell is a profound example of so many things. Particularly one of them is individuality and really exploring what she hears, not worrying about what category it falls into. I know everything has to have a category once it's put onto iTunes. Her music is very hard to characterize because it doesn't want to be.
PitchforkMar 4, 2016 86 The lyrics are elusive at first, darting behind fast-moving songs and delivered in impressionistic, conversational bursts that recall the delivery of Joni Mitchell. But the fearless generosity behind them communicates itself loud and clear, and it's a spirit that animates the entire album. With it, Spalding has once again redefined an already singular career, dictating a vision entirely on her own terms.
Well, I'll put it like this. I was talking to my mom about education, about teachers. My mom taught briefly. I think it's such an incredible talent, and a generous and compassionate field. She was telling me this story — after the song was already written, so I felt like I had intuitively hit on something important — about a woman in the '70s or '80s who had developed a curriculum that was based on art and creativity. The woman is summing up what she had learned from this experience of working with troubled kids and watching them really flourish with an arts-based curriculum. She said what she'd observed in these little kids that she thinks is universal to all people is that there's this vibrant life force, this powerful energy, just boiling and burbling and flowing in every person. It's got to get out, expressed, like pressure, like lava in a mountain. It can be a destructive release — or it can be a constructive release. As she opened and made way for the creative vent, the destructive vent tended to atrophy. Conversely, without that creative outlet, the creative vent will atrophy, and the only way for that energy to get out is through the destructive vent. But it has to be given the release. It's not like that'll just happen. It's a conscious decision to welcome that force — to welcome it and allow it to flow and do what it does. And that was so affirming. I experience that too — I do feel this energy inside, and I always have. That's one way of looking at "Good Lava."
ES: I started thinking about this probably in October of 2013. October 17th to be exact. I was playing bass with people on other people's projects. Privately, I don't think I realized that I was kind of frustrated. The music was incredible and rich and nourishing, and I was learning so much, practicing a lot and getting stretched. There was some other aspect that was frustrated.
As for the name of the project, Spalding explained: “Emily is my middle name, and I’m using this fresh persona as my inner navigator. This project is about going back and reclaiming un-cultivated curiosity, and using it as a compass to move forward and expand.
Her debut album, Junjo, was released on April 18, 2006, on the Ayva Music label. It was created to display the dynamic that she felt among her trio. Though Junjo was released solely under her name, Spalding considers it "a collaborative effort."
That's also part of the motto, I would say, of Emily. That's part of what she comes to say: "It is okay to explore this." Creativity is a magic ingredient you can find to harness whatever it is that's bursting out of you. You can't push that back inside. The energy is there. Creativity is the tool that we all are endowed with. It's like a muscle that you can practice. That lava has to come out. The question is what do you do with it?
I thought that it was just luck that allowed me to be a band leader. I didn't know that it really was coming out of this need to have my own project or say my own things or whatever. Anyway, this is all hindsight analysis of course. At the time I just couldn't sleep one night. It was between two gigs on this tour with another band. I saw this person performing. Not like a hallucination but like a waking dream, where you are just picturing it in your mind's eye. I heard this sound and I saw the people moving in the stage. I thought, "Oh that sounds cool." I liked the energy of the music. I liked the shape of the melodies. I knew the person in the middle was me, and it wasn't like I was seeing somebody else.
UncutMar 2, 2016 80 The varied works of this Portland-born bassist and singer have suggested a giant talent that spills out of jazz into Brazil, R&B, music theatre and even thrash metal. This semi-autobiographical concept album pushes her deep into art-rock territory.
"I think that the best answer to that question of 'What do you do?' is, you get creative with the tools that you've got. I'm excited by that skill and the fruits of that intention — of that decision." The idea is central to Esperanza Emily's D+Evolution. (The album opener, "Good Lava," and its video are premiered above.)
"Devolution burns inside me," sings Esperanza Spalding on "One," a track from her upcoming album, Emily's D+Evolution. She's playing with the idea of a "modern mind" being afflicted by a "primal urge," and more broadly about how, sometimes, great strides in our development are inspired by less-enlightened versions of ourselves.
I first encountered Esperanza Spalding much like the rest of the world did: at the Grammy Awards in 2011. She had some stiff competition against my future boyfriends —Drake and Justin Bieber — and then-favorite bands Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons. It seemed like everyone thought one of the others would win, but it was the underdog (to pop fans, at least) Spalding who took the trophy home and also became the first jazz artist to do so in that category.
BS: Sometimes the beauty of being a child is that when you're not good at things, you still love them and have fun. You move without the inhibition of thinking about them and as you get older, the fact that you weren't special at that thing you loved means you cannot or won't pursue it. Was a lack of inhibition an element of Emily for you?
I knew it was loud, and I knew it was electric. I knew when it wasn't done, and I knew when it was. Beyond that, there wasn't much of a plan. I sought out those musicians, and talked about what we wanted to convey or achieve — energetically, or the story, or the arc of the song. Fortunately the musicians were so adventurous and open and masterful that I think we were able to do something that really honors Emily's aesthetic.
On the other hand, I never signed any contracts, fortunately, with anybody of what I was going to do or not do. That's just some bullshit ego stuff of wanting to be liked all the time. I like to be liked. With this, there's a lot of false starts where people go like, "Huh? Why?" I guess that's difficult when you're doing something for the first time and there are not very many affirmations along the way. You just keep going because it's important to you.
The irony of this little episode is that Spalding never seemed to crave mainstream validation in the first place. She has established herself as an understated force in contemporary jazz and soul, skillfully walking the line between genres—just her and a trusty upright bass—crafting art that resonates with the older guard while maintaining a youthful exuberance. She’s performed for the Obamas at the White House and, in the summer of 2011, I saw her perform at the Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, Pa. There, she put fluid spins on Michael Jackson’s "I Can’t Help It" and the Weather Report’s "Predator," playing electric bass with ?uestlove on drums. No matter where she plays, she projects the sort of self-contained ease that suggests she'd be equally content to play the local open mic. Following the release of 2012’s Radio Music Society, Spalding retreated to her native Portland, Ore., to de-stress from music industry pressures. She took two years off to reconnect with her creative voice and regain some form of sanity.
For the bassist and singer whose recordings heretofore have been overtly tinged by her jazz background, it's a markedly different sound. It's certainly not that Spalding has left her jazz practice behind — when reached on the phone, she was in the middle of a week-long run with the ACS Trio, also featuring Geri Allen on piano and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. But at the core of Emily's D+Evolution is a different kind of trio — the rock 'n' roll power trio instrumentation of Spalding on electric bass and lead vocal, Matthew Stevens on guitar and either Justin Tyson or Karriem Riggins on drums.
Esperanza Spalding 1970, Viewed 6 March 2016, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanza_Spalding>.
Esperanza Spalding Is Letting Emily Be Emily : NPR 1970, Viewed 6 March 2016, <http://www.npr.org/2016/01/08/462325734/esperanza-spalding-is-letting-emily-be-emily>.
Esperanza Spalding Unveils Her Latest Project, 'Emily's D+Evolution ... 1970, Viewed 6 March 2016, <http://thejazzline.com/events/2015/04/esperanza-spalding-emily-devolution-tour/>.
Esperanza Spalding: Emily's D+Evolution | Album Reviews | Pitchfork 1970, Viewed 6 March 2016, <http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/21575-emilys-devolution/>.
Reviews for Emily's D+Evolution by Esperanza Spalding 1970, Viewed 6 March 2016, <http://www.metacritic.com/music/emilys-d+evolution/esperanza-spalding>.
The Lenny Interview: Esperanza Spalding 1970, Viewed 6 March 2016, <http://www.lennyletter.com/culture/interviews/a219/the-lenny-interview-esperanza-spalding/>.
Word Count: 1531