Esperanza Spalding: Searching For The New 'Atlantis'
The new Esperanza Spalding album, Radio Music Society, comes out next Tuesday, but you can hear it all now via NPR Music's First Listen series. The tune in the video above, Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species," is covered on the record.
If you were looking for an overall aesthetic to Radio Music Society, you might start here. Shorter's 1980s and '90s albums — "Endangered Species" is from 1985's Atlantis — have been maligned a bit among those in the know. But this performance from 1988 shows off the color effects of the heavy synths and bass guitar, the intensity of musicianship and the intricacies of the composition. He's filtering a lot of interesting stuff through the trappings of '80s pop music.
Radio Music Society operates on similar principles: Get jazz musicians operating with "pop" or "radio-friendly" sounds and ideas. In practice, that often means an '80s vibe lingers throughout the record too, with the electric bass and keyboards and backbeats. To these ears, Wayne Shorter is clearly a model for all that. Spalding has covered
Shorter's "Ponta de Areia" before (a Milton Nascimento song from Shorter's 1974 Native Dancer) and she and Shorter have worked together on occasion. Also, the drummer in this video, a young Terri Lyne Carrington, often works with Spalding, including on this new record. (The rest of the band in this video is Bernard Wright [that sweater and Kangol hat!] and Renee Rosnes [!] on keyboards and Keith Jones on bass.)
It's often said that a good melody is one you can sing, which would make "Endangered Species" a good melody. This tune has been in Spalding's arsenal for some time, but now she's written lyrics for it and made it into a vocal duet. It starts: "Human ... danger!" If you know of Wayne Shorter's love of science fiction, that sounds just about right too.