So, I bought this highly acclaimed eponymous debut (or, at least, first widely released) c.d., knowing nothing about Esperanza Spalding other than she's this year's favorite jazz flavor. The first cut was the great old Milton Nascimento tune, "Ponte de Areia." I noted: "above average Brazilian jazz-pop; stronger voice than Bebel Gilberto; probably 4 stars."
But this is why you have to listen to an entire c.d., before jumping to conclusions.
As Esperanza expands into jazz-pop ("I Adore You," track 4, and track 7, "Precious"), funk ("Espera", track 10), and freer post-bop ("Mela," track 8, and my favorite on this disc, track 11, "If That's True"), it becomes quite evident that this disc is anything but "above average Brazilian jazz-pop."
But then, Ms. Spalding ends the disc with an absolutely gorgeous "duet," a samba entitled "Samba Preludio," with her on voice and bass, and Pablo Martin on guitar (recorded especially in Spain), and it's as if she has just given us a great big wink.
Esperanza Spalding in fact is not Brazilian. Rather, she was born and raised in Portland, Ore., trained at Berklee, and is the youngest instructor in the history of Berklee. And she's 23 years old.
Quite obviously, this is an eclectic c.d., designed to show off Esperanza's chops. And damn, this chick's got chops! Her vocal range is impressive; but she's one of the finest young bassists in the business. I suspect she'll hit Down Beat's "talent deserving wider recognition" category as a bassist before she does as a vocalist; but she easily could be in both categories very soon.
2008 has been an amazing year for debut c.d.'s. Raya Yarbrough, Hope Waits, Melody Gardot, and Esperanza Spalding have knocked out the most impressive quartet of "debut" recordings I can remember in any one year. While this one is not my favorite of the four, I really think Esperanza Spalding has the most inherent talent of all. I don't see a ceiling on this artist, and hopefully, she'll keep expanding the sky as the years go on. RC