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Spalding's Radio Music Society impresses in too-big setting Sunday

Posted by: Jon Bream under Music Updated: October 1, 2012 - 2:13 AM

 

 

Esperanza Spalding/ Associated Press

File Esperanza Spalding’s concert under the right idea, wrong room.

Thanks to her winning a Grammy for best new artist in 2011, the jazz bassist/singer/composer’s stature has blossomed to the extent that she can no longer play the 300-seat Dakota Jazz Club. Her considerable talent warranted a big gig like her nearly two-hour concert Sunday at the State Theatre but a smaller venue – say the Pantages or Fitzgerald – would have been more fitting for her sound and her audience (well fewer than 1,000 people).

Still, it was a rewarding evening as this extraordinary 27-year-old focused on her new album “Radio Music Society,” which strives to connect pop with jazz. While switching between upright and electric bass, the singer showed off her stellar, brass-heavy (but not dominated) 11-piece band and her many voices: sweet, soulful, soaring, sexy, dusky, airy, harmonic, scatty, jazzy.

A slender woman with a giant, free-flowing Afro, Spalding utilized spoken-word dramas/monologues about love as bridges between songs, dragging either saxophonist Renato Caranto into the scenario (both spoken and musical) or backup singer Chris Turner. Spalding also used a prop of a giant boom box onstage, with its radio swtiching from station to station (including static) to start the concert.

Spalding and her group performed almost all the pieces from “Radio Music Society” (several of which had socially conscious themes) as well as Thad Jones’ “Us,” which opened the program. Highlights included “Cinnamon Tree,” “Crowned and Kissed,” “Black Gold” (a duet with Turner, who sounded strikingly like Stevie Wonder) and a closing duet with just Spalding’s bass and the lovely scatting voices of Leala Cyr and Spalding.
 

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