Review/photos by Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.
Amherst, NY – Grammy award winner and contemporary Jazz artist, Esperanza Spalding, kicked off her “Radio Music Society” tour at the acoustically brilliant Center of the Arts – located on the University of Buffalo campus. The appreciative crowd of approximately 1000, watched in awe as the 27 year old Berklee Music graduate performed a 90 minute set with an unparalleled level of sophistication, grace and elegance. Spalding is a unique talent. Not only is she a virtuoso on bass guitar and double bass, but she is extremely vocally gifted as well. She has the vocal range of Whitney Houston and bass skills that could rival Billy Sheehan. And although this was the very first show of her tour, Spalding and her incredible eleven piece band was well rehearsed and flawless through the evening. Their uncanny ability to improvise on the stop of a dime was more than impressive.
The evening kicked with the giant size boom box radio that resided on the stage, lighting up and dialing through a mirage of different stations. The concept of the radio played out through-out the evening, keeping in line with the end goal of this particular tour and Spalding current release, “Radio Music Society,” which is the creation of uncompromising music that is so catchy, that (one would think) radio stations across the country would have to play it. “Radio Music Society” is also the companion release to Spalding critically acclaimed 2011 release, “Chamber Music Society.”
After the giant boom box tuned in to the fictitious station “Channel Us,” Spalding’s band (led by veteran session guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, avant-garde keyboardist Leo Genovese and Spalding‘s Berklee music teacher Jeff Galindo on trumpet) took the stage and performed a five minute intro. Spalding, wearing a white dress, then joined in, wasting no time showcasing her incredible talent, and effortlessly performing intricate bass lines.
Unlike, some other performances, Spaulding was very interactive with the audience on this evening. A few songs into her performance, she announced, “In case you are ever feeling down, just put on this song” and proceeded into the afrocentric “Black Gold” from her recent release. This song featured a tasteful guitar solo by Johnson. Afterwards, Spalding thanked the receptive audience, “Thank you for going to those places with me, it’s sometimes hard out there.”
During the evening, Spalding switched from bass guitar to double bass many times. One of the most amazing moments of the show occurred during the song “inspired by (her) good friends” entitled, “Cinnamon Tree.” Spalding locked into an incredibility complicated bass groove that she continued playing, all while sheepishly apologizing to the audience, “I can stop,… but maybe not until tomorrow.” The audience roared to approval, cheering her on the entire time. After Spalding reluctantly finished playing, she asked the audience if they would like to listen to music like that on the radio. Again, the audience responded with applause. She then said, “That’s what we hoped for when we wrote this track.” She then proceeded with her new single, the R&B flavored, “Radio Song,” to the delight of the audience. Spalding really took this song to the next level with her soulful voice and funk influenced bass parts. During the song, the audience was so moved by the groove that Spalding and her band created, that everyone started loudly clapping along, encouraging the band to improvise a little longer. After that track, Spalding and band left the stage, the house lights went on, but the audience demanded more, cheering for over five minutes.
Spalding then returned to the stage, all smiles. She then asked if Buffalo had their own theme song. A couple audience members shouted out songs such as the Buffalo Bills theme song, “Shout” and Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Solider.” Spalding then explained that her hometown Portland, OR did not have a song, so she wrote one entitled, “City of Roses.” Spalding and her band impressed the crowd one last time with their extraordinary level of musical brilliance. It was at that point many in the audience had realized that they had just witnessed a future megastar, and maybe even for the last time in such an intimate venue.
For more on Esperanza Spalding, please visit www.esperanzaspalding.com
Special thanks to Berta Queralt for giving us the privilege of covering this show.