Artist: Esperanza Spalding
Title: “Chamber Music Society”
One could be excused for listening to Esperanza Spalding’s “Chamber Music Society” once and announcing, “I don’t get it.”
This is heady, challenging stuff that does not immediately reveal who it is for or why. This is Shrek’s onion, the layers slowly peeled back on repeated listens.
“Chamber” has charms, but it’s not for the passive listener. It demands attention.
It holds its secrets tightly. There’s a restraint that feels intentional yet effortless, a careful balancing act as Spalding tries to juggle while walking a tightrope.
It’s a patchwork quilt of influences, owing in small part to Spalding’s bilingual upbringing in English and Spanish.
On most tracks is Spalding’s silky soprano, gently pushing the songs in the right direction. Other times, it’s her emotional playing of her upright bass.
“Winter Sun,” which shows a spirited bounce, and “Wild is the Wind,” which flies in a fleet of strings to push the tension, are highlights. Gretchen Parlato does lovely work with the wordless guest vocal on “Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
I’m on my fifth spin and while I’m still not sure I get it, I’m fascinated by what I hear.
Our Music Year is Daily Republic popular culture writer Nick DeCicco’s yearlong online review in 2012 of albums he had previously not listened to. The reviews will appear in print on their corresponding days during 2013. Reach him at 427-6966 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ndeciccodr.