The Grammy-award winning phenom stole hearts and impressed minds with her nimble execution and musical erudition Tuesday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts Helzberg Hall. That lovely long-haired venue decidedly got more hip when Ms Spalding, wearing an electric guitar that appeared to weigh just a few pounds less than its lissome player, got down to business.
The pixie with the P-bass strode coolly onto the Helzberg stage, following her eleven piece bands looping intro. Touring on her new Radio Music Society CD, she used her self-described fondness for the airwaves as a framing story for a journey around the junction of jazz, funk and pop (it’s a companion piece to her earlier Chamber Music Society, which went to No 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart). A sweet if unremarkable singer, she nevertheless made her self-composed tunes pop and shine throughout the nearly two hour proceedings.
This new girl in town paid appropriate homage to her predecessors, starting up with a Thad Jones- Mel Lewis big band composition and moving on to a tune out of the Wayne Shorter songbooks (even ringing up Shorter to ask him about adding lyrics to his “Endangered Species”). Boppin and struttin around the stage, she moved effortlessly from the hard-edged realism of “Black Gold,” made more evocative with a Langston Hughes-inspired spoken word segment, to the sweet Laura Nyro-esque pop feel of “Cinnamon Tree.” All the while, you could feel the conversation going back and forth with her bandmates; and this gal can scat.
Spalding danced and grooved with that bass guitar and caressed and coaxed the even bigger double bass with which she alternated most of the night. You don’t think of the bass as a melodic instrument; but, front and center, flailing here and urging the notes there, she made that bottom breath and sigh. With the band headed to the locker room and Esperanza all by herself, stand-up bass in hand on Abbey Lincoln‘s anthemic “Throw It Away,” you knew she was on to something special.