On Friday night July 3, 2015 at Terminal West of The Kings Plow Art Center, a metamorphosis took place. This metamorphosis was only witnessed by the approximately 600 individuals that were fortunate enough to attend the sold out Esperanza Spalding concert. Many of those fortunate souls came to Terminal West expecting to see Esperanza Spalding, the jazz bass prodigy that has been wowing audiences since she burst on the scene, winning the best New Artist Grammy several years back (Sorry Bieber loyalists). For those that came expecting to see a show that consisted of straight ahead jazz, you may have been disappointed — but only for a little while.
The jazz purists that may have attended hoping to see the performer that performed at the Cobb Energy Center of Performing Arts here in Atlanta a couple of years ago, were in for a shock; because a different artist performed on Friday night at Terminal West. Esperanza was in absentia, and Emily’s D + Evolution was in the house. Who, you say is Emily’s D + Evolution? Actually, that’s still to be determined. Let’s call her Esperanza’s freed alter ego. She’s Mariah Carey’s Mimi. She’s Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce. Actually, I think Emily is Esperanza Spalding with all the weight of being Esperanza, removed. She’s Esperanza, minus the responsibility that goes along with managing and orchestrating a full 10 or 12 piece band. Friday night, it was just Esperanza / Emily on bass, accompanied by an extraordinary guitarist and drummer, and two vocalists. That’s it. But for those that attended the performance, and were concerned at seeing only three musicians on stage (like yours truly), and were asking themselves “where’s Leo? (Leo Genovese, Esperanza’s main stay on keyboards)” Our concerns were quickly addressed and put to rest. Because when I didn’t see a Leo Genovese or a Tia Fuller on sax, I began to think that perhaps tonight I may just be getting a dose of “Esperanza Lite”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What the audience got on Friday night, I feel, was a coming out party. I think this entire Emily’s D + Evolution tour has been Esperanza at her best. Unencumbered.
(Here’s a snapshot)
Throughout the performance Emily seamlessly moved from her 4-string Fender jazz bass, to her 5-string fretless without missing a beat. She did what has always boggled my mind for a bassist to be able to do; she played those two basses, held down the pocket, soloed, and sang — and was masterful at all of them. Yes I know, Meshell (Ndegeocello) sings and plays, Sting sings and plays, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, yadda yadda, but let’s face it, none of those artists are playing material with quite the complexity of what Emily is playing while they’re singing; so to compare them would be like comparing apples & oranges.
Throughout the entire set as I canvassed the audience, all you saw were heads bobbing up and down; arms waving in the air in full satisfaction and approval of what they were experiencing. The person that I mentioned earlier that came expecting to see and experience the Esperanza of a few years ago was in for a surprise; but if he gave himself the chance to soak in the entire musical experience, he had to leave Terminal West — full. Satisfied. Quenched. It was a combination of jazz- meets fusion- meets Emily — and the concoction was tasty.
If you were fortunate enough to be around in the 70’s like I was, and witness artists like Miles or Hendrix, those guys never put on the same show twice. They were always evolving. They were never static. They were always reinventing themselves (think Hendrix “The Experience”, then think Hendrix “Band of Gypsies”; think Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, then think Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” or “Tutu”) because their art was not static — it was a continuum. I think that’s what we’re witnessing with Esperanza / Emily. Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that her show included some stuff that I could have done without — the theatrics, the chanting, the poetry, didn’t enhance the experience for me. But at the end of the day, it was about the music. The music. That’s the common thread that made the evening swing.
One of the best compliments I think a band leader can receive is to be told that their band was “tight”. You’d hear it a lot about James Brown’s band. Tight. You’d hear it about Luther Vandross’ band. Tight. Well, that’s what we attendees got on Friday night. The music was tight. The guitar. The drums. They were locked in so tight into the fabric of Emily’s bass, that you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began — tight.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I ended this review without commenting on the venue. Terminal West is an über cool place to catch a show. It was my first time in the venue, and I will go again. I got the feeling of the old smoke-filled jazz clubs of the 70’s — The Village Vanguard, Blues Alley, Keystone Corner, The Blue Note, etc. Small. Intimate. Great acoustics. Where you could be close enough to see the perspiration glistening on the performers face — that’s what I experienced at Terminal West on Friday night. If I had to choose between experiencing Esperanza having assigned seats at The Cobb Energy Center, or general admission at Terminal West (aka standing, and being 20 feet from the performer), that would be a no brainer for me. But to each his own.
All said and done, it was a fantastic evening at a fantastic venue, experiencing a fantastic artist masterfully handling her craft.
A solid 9 out of 10.