I suppose I’m spoiled in having heard strong female artists like PJ Harvey, tUnE-yArDs. Esperanza Spalding is not one of those women. On Esperanza she accedes to a rather bland, established formula for vocal jazz, with hushed, breathy vocalizations, and warm, soft and non-confrontational backing, with a lot of rather vague third world-isms laced through. It comes across as something between Sade and Diana Krall, with the kind of emphasis on lightweight pop rather than jazz that Norah Jones established as the dominant commercial form. The lyrics here are banal, though there seems to be little attempt to make them the focus. The album has finely crafted production values, but Spalding makes no attempt to establish her own voice. She plays bass competently but not remarkably. This album just drifts by without making its mark.
I bagged on Esperanza’s last album (Esperanza) because she followed a formula too closely. Well, on this time out she certainly breaks from formula. Now she dabbles in a mixture of third-stream and pop. Problem is, she doesn’t pull it off. The songs are too complex for their own good. Cluttered. It seems like she’s aiming for something a little more ambitious than she’s able to pull off as a writer and arranger, even if well within her means as a performer. Oh well.