Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society is artful, feel-good jazz

Anna Buchholz

Esperanza Spalding, a name and voice made famous overnight after receiving the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist, released her most recent album “Radio Music Society” last March. Being the first jazz artist to win this award, her name lit up at venues across the country and audiences fell in love with her lush, smooth voice and wild hair.


Spalding meshes all three of her talents as a singer, songwriter and bass player in this album, filling each track with rich harmonies, textures and feel-good grooves. The opening track, “Radio Song,” immediately grabs the listener with a laid-back groove set by a duet of her voice and a shaker. Her lyrics are intimate as she sings about that moment when you’re listening to the radio and you hear a song that immediately captures and uplifts you.


Joined by R&B singer Algebra Blessett, Spalding taps into her African American heritage before slavery with “Black Gold,” which opens with rhythms and a melody reminiscent of an African spiritual. It then eases into a relaxed feel laid down by Spalding’s flowing bass lines and her rhythm section, underneath the soulful sounds of these two voices.


In creating “Radio Music Society,” Spalding has written that she aimed to explore how musicians use grooves, melodies and songs of the “pop” genre. She collaborates with accomplished saxophonist Joe Lovano for her own rendition of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It,” adding her own flavor to a pop song. Lovano’s luscious, full tone creates a beautiful dialogue as he has a musical conversation with Spalding, interjecting or commenting horn lines in and around her musical thoughts.


The album’s fourth track, titled “Land of the Free,” was inspired by the story of a man falsely accused of murder and is filled with the pain, anguish and frustration encompassed in the situation. Performed as a ballad, it is a duet with her voice winding through the mellow harmonies of the keyboard without a strict pulse or beat, only the emotion and feeling leading each phrase. The proceeds from the sale of this track go towards the Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA testing to prevent injustice within the criminal justice system.

Spalding also raises funds and awareness of protecting the environment in the track “Endangered Species” by giving proceeds of its sale to the Amazon Aid Foundation. Originally written by legendary composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Spalding creates an upbeat record that is filled with syncopations and a variety of textures with voices, horn interjections, and electronic sound additions. From the opening notes of the tune, animal-like sounds appear through the thick melodies and rhythms Spalding creates in the ensemble.


This album is purely groovy. Every track will move you to your feet and you will close your eyes and sway to the natural beats made by Spalding and her colorful and passionate ensemble. “Radio Music Society” is filled with moments of raw soul and beauty as Spalding continues to develop her individual voice and musical language. After grooving to this record, check out Spalding’s “Radio Music Society: The Movie” and watch the power of music pour through her performance. In “Radio Song” she sings, “This song will keep you grooving […] Play to lift your spirits” — and that’s exactly what happens with every tune Spalding creates.