Quantum Vocalsby Aryan Kaganof / 04.04.2011
Esperanza Spalding quotes Borges in her press conference but live she’s actually a creature out of Carlos Castenada. There’s no stopping this imp, possessed by ancestral spirits of a jazz yet-to-come she flows fluid between her instrument (the upright bass) and her Other Instrument (a voice that was forged in a universe where individual notes don’t exist – all sound is flow and every fresh attack suggests and runs into every possible decay, simultaneously). This is Quantum Vocals.
The spirited runs of chthonic vocalese that Esperanza dances her impishly slight frame around bring to mind Brazilian songstress Flora Purim (Return To Forever) but it is Spalding’s unique marriage of voice and bass that really blows the mind. The instrument is taller than her and wider but she leans into it and fuses paradoxically precise and inchoate sounds that take off from vocal cords and pulsate from fingers as if the cords and fingers were interchangeable. Close your eyes and you don’t know where you are – Esperanza is an orchestra of one – it’s music from a source we are rarely confronted with in the age of packaged commodities. A primal sound vibrating even before the ears see it and the eyes hear it.
The Chamber Jazz Ensemble that she has put together includes a very tight string trio (the cellist also provide backing vocals – a neat touch), latin piano and drums. The music writing is strongly influenced by Broadway and reminded me of those early Abbey Lincoln albums, before she met Max Roach and started insisting.
Insistent is what Esperanza Spalding definitely is. The show doesn’t lose steam for a second. Performers like this, who give everything, all the time, who never relax into showbiz tropes and comfortable routines, come around once in a generation. If the rest of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival was an oddly soggy affair marked by slow-cruising old-timers articulating their yesterwares, then Esperanza more than made up for it. Concert of the year. Of the decade. Of the millenium thus far!
*Images © Aryan Kaganof.