Esperanza Spalding updates jazz genre

Many people were very surprised by this year’s winner of the Best New Artist award at the 53rd Grammy Awards. Jazz vocalist, bassist, and composer Esperanza Spalding not only astonished many with her extraordinary talent, but also made history as the first jazz artist to win the award. Another shocking element of her success is that Spalding was not as widely known as some of the other nominees for the award, especially popular artists Justin Bieber and Drake. Spalding only recently made her debut in 2008 with her self-titled album Esperanza. Although there were a number of disappointed Bieber and Drake fans, it is hard to ignore Spalding’s talent and say that she did not deserve the victory. Her most recently released album, Chamber Music Society, is a strong verification of her musical skills.

Chamber Music Society was No. 1 on the Heatseekers Albums Chart of Billboard as well as No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums Chart. The album features many classical-style jazz songs while producing a world fusion theme in some of the pieces. Many of the songs are wordless, giving the music an abstract quality and leaving the meaning open for interpretation. Spalding utilizes many different aspects of traditional jazz music, while creating her pieces in a way that is still fresh and contemporary. She uses rhythm sections and improvisation, scatting, and piano and violin solo sections in which the leading instrument seems to be improvising over the other instruments. She also uses vocal techniques influenced by folk and world music.

“Chacarera,” the fourth track on the album, is quite an interesting composition. It incorporates elements from 20th century music, especially during the song’s periodic sections of dissonant tones. Then it flows into an upbeat rhythm with a haunting melody as Spalding’s smooth voice is accompanied by the piano, percussion, and strings. It embodies one of Spalding’s qualities as a musician — the ability to bring new and different aspects to jazz music to develop a contemporary and eclectic style.

The song “What a Friend” seems like a story painted through music. As the beautiful melody and harmony line weave together, they create a feeling of happiness and companionship. The song begins at a rather slow pace, but builds to a faster pace with cheery scatting as the accompanying instruments follow in upbeat stride. The song then alternates between the two tempos as it continues.

The album includes many more songs that display the innovation that Esperanza Spalding possesses and that Billboard magazine recognized. Spalding’s third album, called Radio Music Society, is due to be released in the spring of 2011, and it is very likely that she has many more innovations to bestow upon the world of music.