Mixed reaction to jazz’s ‘it’ girl

2011-03-29 07:06

The performance by Esperanza Spalding, jazz’s new “it” girl, in Cape Town this weekend was nothing short of desperately dichotomous. Incensing the serious and tested jazz enthusiast she found favour with apparently less demanding casual listeners.

The purist listeners at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival found her “pretentious and inadequate” while others described her with words such as “wow! and amazing!”

On one hand there was Anele Maduna, who said: “I went to see her with no expectation because I had not heard any of her music before ... She was beautiful. I loved her.”

Anele explained that he came to the festival “because I wanted to see Jazzonavo and Tortured Soul”. Both these acts are house music outfits.

A bushy-bearded old timer who ground his tooth with each spoken word, and who claimed to have walked out of her set, called her “awful and terrible”.

Calling himself simply Allan, he said hi and asked: “Did you go see Esmeralda?” I retorted that he meant Esperanza.

He said “whatever” then offered that “she was awful, terrible in fact. I wished she would fall of the stage.”

Allan felt that by starting her set by sitting on a couch to drink a glass of wine, then proceeding to take off her shoes, shawl and coat before moving on to play was “too gimmicky and pretentious”.

She may have not command the depth that demanding jazz aficionados insist on, but the truth is that there’s space for Spalding’s project in jazz – even if only as an entry point for new listeners discovering jazz.

After all there must be merit to the fact that respected band leader and saxophonist Joe Lovano would pick her as his bassist.

Spalding plays bass in Lovano’s quintet, Us Five, which just released an album titled Bird Songs, interpreting Charlie “Bird” Parker’s music.

Spalding brought an assemble that included a string section that included two violinists, a cellist, and herself on contrabass and vocals.

Leo Genovese played piano, Richie Barshay ran the drums while Leala Cyr backed with vocals.

They were presenting music from Spalding’s latest album, Chamber Music Society.

The overarching sound of the project leans more towards chamber music as the title suggests. It addresses little of the blues tradition – if any at all.

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