Women in jazz redefine the art form: Esperanza Spalding and Regina Carter

Women in jazz redefine the art form: Esperanza Spalding and Regina Carter

To this day, jazz continues to save its leading instrumental roles for men. Women are allowed to prosper as singers and singer-pianists, but not much else.

Nevertheless, a few visionary women have managed to swing through the glass ceiling, and two of them shared a high-powered double-bill Friday night at Symphony Center.

It would be unfair to call Esperanza Spalding merely a bassist-vocalist-composer. The lithe virtuosity of her bass playing and wide-open expression of her singing seem almost beside the point. Music surges from every cell in Spalding’s body, and her bass playing, singing and self-styled choreography are merely vehicles for releasing it.

Spalding’s talents have made her a jazz phenomenon, earning her a recent Grammy nomination as best new artist, as well as a performance at last year’s Nobel Peace Prize festivities – at the request of the recipient, Barack Obama.

Most jazz artists never will reach this kind of crossover popularity, and at 26, Spalding still has a lifetime of music ahead of her.

What matters most, though, is the work itself, and on this score Spalding turned in startling, slightly flawed music-making of considerable substance and daring.

The repertoire came from her newest recording, "Chamber Music Society," and proved less cloying and more effective in concert than on disc. You really have to see Spalding, as well as hear her, to fully perceive the dynamism of her work. Vocal lines morph into bass lines, then back again; sleekly undulating body movements express complex rhythmic ideas; a sense of drama and storytelling pervades the entire experience.

"Little Fly," the tune that launches Spalding’s "Chamber Music Society" disc, also opened the concert, but the sugary preciousness of the recording was far reduced here. Instead, it was the searing cry of Spalding’s voice that mattered most.

True, Spalding’s vocal instrument has its shortcomings. There’s an unevenness to her tone, an inconsistency of sound from one pitch to the next, that leaves Spalding with room for technical improvement.

Then again, her voice emerges as just a higher-pitched extension of her unusually fluid bass playing, the music starting way down low at the bottom of the instrument and rising up to her stratospheric vocal notes. Extraordinary.

As interpreter, Spalding knows few inhibitions. She transformed the ancient "Wild is the Wind" with smoldering tone and slinky phrases. She duetted ingeniously with Leala Cyr on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Inutil Paisagem," the two vocalists producing at least five musical threads between them (including Spalding’s voice, bass and percussive effects).

As songwriter, Spalding pushed into profound narrative in her "Apple Blossom," which she dispatched practically as a performance piece.

Violinist Regina Carter, who opened the evening, is Spalding’s elder by more than two decades, and her achievements have helped pave the way for the younger artist. For Carter always has refused to play conventional roles in music, moving among genres in ways not encouraged by the recording or radio industries.

In Carter’s latest venture, the beguiling CD "Reverse Thread," Carter explores African folkloric music in characteristically free-spirited fashion. In concert, this music – and other repertoire – illuminated the questing intellect and joyous sensibility of Carter’s best work.

Sappy jazz violinists of dubious intonation are not hard to find, but first-rate practitioners such as Carter remain an endangered species. She continues to coax the art forward.

Cazkolik.com / 18 Ocak 2011, Salı




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