Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society in Rochester

Radio static in the dark. A bandstand shaped like a boom box. Sounds of different stations as this radio wandered the dial. The shadows of the band creating these radio sounds.

Then Esperanza Spalding strolled out onto the stage of Kodak Hall of Eastman Theatre, where she played bass, sang, and led her band through Saturday night's musical journey as part of the Xerox International Rochester Jazz Festival.

She moved seamlessly between talking and singing, and she went from singing lyrics to scatting when the feeling got to be too much for words and then slid back to the lyrics. She and the band had conversations that mixed speaking, singing, and playing.

The Radio Music Society Band, led by saxophonist Tia Fuller were all excellent, each distinct in their performances. The way their contributions were blended into the performance was a satisfying escape from the typical jazz concert structure alternating solos and applause.

"Is there an us?" Spalding asked. She spoke of you and me, the rush of falling in love, the thrill of the uncertainty of whether it is returned, the beauty of the mystery, the pain of when that certain smile is meant for someone else, the strength to let them go, and the guilty schadenfreude when it turns out that things will not work out with them. Each song flowed together into a story of relationships, between lovers or between a musician and their audience.

 

Personal cares then morphed into societal concerns, pivoting on the song “Crowned and Kissed” into “Black Gold,” and “Land of the Free,” which addressed wrongful imprisonment and the case of Cornelius Dupree.

 

In case you somehow stopped noticing her playing along the way – which was engaging but not showy on both electric and upright bass - you couldn't miss it on her interpretation of Wayne Shorter's “Endangered Species” near the end of the evening. Otherwise, her bass was often part of the mix, sparkling in fills, but subservient to the overall blend of the music.

 

Only one down note took away from this evening. I'm not sure that we deserved the ovation she said we should give ourselves. There are many shows to get to at a festival, but it was distracting and strange to see so many people leaving early. Then there was the singalong, which didn't take off like I wish it could have:

 


“Now if you want to

Sing it loud, with love,

with love in your heart

Because you like to, because you need to”

 

Were you out there singing too? Were we just too far apart to hear each other?