Breaking through

By JON GARELICK  |  May 19, 2008

That’s not taking into account her easy, down-to-earth, often funny stage manner. “She’s one of those people who, when she gets on stage, nothing fazes her,” recalls Berklee bass-department chairman Richard Appleman. “She’s very relaxed and happy up there and doesn’t get uptight.” Love recalls that what initially got media interest was an EPK sent out in January, long before advances of the audio CDs. It was the filmed performances and interview segments on that EPK that prompted the TV and radio gigs. “Her bass playing, her voice, her personality — it becomes this fourth thing,” says Appleman.

Spalding herself is aware of the tightrope she’s walking between her serious jazz interests and pop stardom. Happy as she is with her vocal performances on the album, she hopes to return to more experiments with vocalise/bass counterpoint. “I’m more into melodies and development of melodies and soloing, and functioning more like an instrument and less like a singer,” she tells me from her current home in Jersey City. “Because as a singer you have the responsibility of delivering the poetry and putting on a show. But I felt that I need to give more of the singer kind of voice [on Esperanza] to cover that ground and say, ‘Okay, recognize this, join my club, and go with me as I actually move on this journey.’ ”

She’s less ambivalent about other aspects of marketing. “I’m very stern about the image I’m willing and not willing to project of myself. That’s the only place where I argue with people that I work with. Where it’s just like: ‘No, I’m not willing to do that.’ ” She recalls one photo that “wasn’t risqué, but it was showing a lot of my leg, and I was like, ‘No. No way.’ ” Another cover concept wanted to exploit Spalding’s Afro for a ’70s urban vibe. “I was like, ‘I’m not from the ’70s!’ ”

Jeff Turton, who’s hosted WFNX’s Jazz Brunch for 25 years, is a fan of Spalding’s, though not of Junjo, calling it “scattered.” “This album is significantly better. She’s much more focused. And when was the last time you heard anyone do a version of ‘Ponta de Areia’? That song obviously takes a special vocal talent to pull it off, and to start your record with that — I think that took a fair amount of gumption. Should she have focused on her bass playing? I don’t know. She needs to search for a larger audience and she’s incredibly talented and deserves it, so why not do this?”

ESPERANZA SPALDING | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | May 29 | 617.395.7757 or www.regattabarjazz.com

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