Esperanza invites pop into her realm with new record

Esperanza Spalding
If you didn't know much about Esperanza Spalding—and many people didn't before her surprise Grammy win last year—you might be inclined to think that her latest album, “Radio Music Society," is the jazz artist's attempt to crossover into the mainstream music world.

There certainly are several elements of the record that could lead to such a conclusion. It's her most accessible album, with R&B friendly grooves and production credits from rapper Q-Tip. It even features a cover of a Michael Jackson groove from “Off the Wall."

But if you know Esperanza like renowned jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, a frequent collaborator and a guest on “Radio Music Society," you will know that the bassist, songwriter, singer and producer never strays far from her jazz roots, and is not one to alter her sound so it fits neatly into any format—and certainly doesn't do it for her most high-profile album to date.

“It has jazz in it, but it's beyond that. I think it sends the message, not only in jazz but in pop, that you can do more with it in terms of the level of music and the artistry and what they might call 'taking risks,'" said DeJohnette. “Hopefully this 'Radio Music Society' CD will inspire musicians, not only in jazz but in other genres, to open up and expand. ... I think we all have that same sensibility, that jazz music can go a lot of places and cover a lot of bases and still hold that."

It's what Spalding had in mind when she crafted the album.

“I actually think the music is served—not just my music but even the music that I consider myself a member of, a community member of jazz music—(it) can actually be served by all of the—what would you call it? Spotlight," she said in a recent interview.

“Radio Music Society" is Spalding's fourth album and represents another highlight in a career that has reached apex after apex. The Portland, Ore., multi-instrumentalist became the youngest instructor at the celebrated Berklee College when she was just 20 years old; she released her first album in 2006. Soon, she would be singing for the likes of President Barack Obama and playing with artists like Prince.

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