Esperanza Spalding Casts a Spell and Marcus Strickland Considers His Timing, in Take Five
Esperanza Spalding, “12 Little Spells (Thoracic Spine)”
The last time Esperanza Spalding made an album, she invited the world to watch. Her new one, 12 Little Spells, was made in secrecy, though its rollout is happening on the broadest scale. I mean “happening” in an emphatic present tense: Spalding, an inexhaustibly creative singer-songwriter, bassist and composer, shared the first song on Sunday. She’ll post another one every day, at 12:12 p.m. EST, until all 12 tracks are out, at which point the album will be released on Concord Records.
Spalding has described this album in terms of magic, and her new songs as “song-spells.” There’s a preciousness to that language, but it’s worth considering the magic of inspiration, a word that connotes both the benefactions of the Muse and the more routine business of breathing. That notion seems to be on Spalding’s mind in this first song, which takes as its subject the 12 vertebrae that, in humans, make up the thoracic spine.
Singing against a supple orchestral fanfare that gradually lightens and dissolves, Spalding evokes the everyday miracle of this physiology: “A pair of sympathetic ridges shift / You’ve evolved to harness / These constant eruptions.” She’s interested in circulation, and all the ways that a well-articulated yet flexible structure can make it possible. Toward the end of the song she lands on a refrain that could be about lung capacity or about the album rollout, or both: “Compelled to give itself / The moment it is full.”
The tracks from 12 Little Spells will be posted daily via Facebook, Instagram and Spalding’s website, before the album is released in full on Oct. 19.
Marcus Strickland Twi-Life, “Timing”
If you’ve been paying attention to saxophonist Marcus Strickland, as you should be, you know he has an unforced relationship with groove. Both as a sideman, with the likes of Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, and as a leader, with the band he calls Twi-Life, he traffics in hip-hop and R&B with complete assurance. Still, he’s raising his own bar with the new album People of the Sun, due out on Blue Note on Nov. 9.
The album has guest turns by Pharoahe Monch and Bilal — both of whom will join Strickland for an album-release gig at Jazz Standard on Nov. 10 and 11. But the core message of People of the Sun is the cohesive bond within Twi-Life, which has Charles Haynes on drums, Mitch Henry on keyboards and Kyle Miles on electric bass. On “Timing,” the album’s persuasive lead single, Strickland’s imploring tenor works as a lead vocal against their root-level rattle and hum.
Ice on the Hudson, “A Tiny Seed (feat. René Marie)”
A few years ago, critic and author David Hajdu released an album called Waiting for the Angel, consisting of new songs with his lyrics. Several tracks were composed by pianist Renee Rosnes, who has now reunited with Hajdu for a full album, Ice on the Hudson. Releasing Friday on SMK Jazz, a new imprint of Smoke Sessions Records, it’s the product of a true mind-meld, with vocal duties shared by Janis Siegel, Darius de Haas, Karen Oberlin — and René Marie, who’s heard here.
The songs range from stoically poignant (“All But You”) to poetically frivolous (“I Like Pie”), with a sensibility more in line with contemporary musical theater than the standard songbook as it’s broadly understood. At the same time, Rosnes leads a band with the likes of Steve Wilson and Seamus Blake on saxophones and Carl Allen on drums, and their rapport is recognizably jazz-centered. Consider the soulful ease they bring to “A Tiny Seed,” a parable about the value of persistence.
All four vocalists on Ice on the Hudson — Marie, Siegel, Oberlin and de Haas — will appear next Monday, Oct. 15, in an album-release celebration at Birdland.
Hearts & Minds, “Back and Forth”
Hearts & Minds is the brainchild of bass clarinetist Jason Stein and synthesizer specialist Paul Giallorenzo, who first met as schoolkids on Long Island, and both now reside in Chicago. They formed the group a few years ago as a trio with drummer Frank Rosaly, who has since been replaced by Chad Taylor.
Electroradiance is their new album, just out on the Astral Spirits label. From the jump, on a track called “Back and Forth,” it achieves a savvy balancing act: it’s an unbound sonic expedition that also digs in, exuding an earthy rhythmic gusto. Listen to Stein’s solo, especially a few minutes into the track, and you can hear an avant-garde impulse at work. But underneath and all around him, the beat churns as if Taylor is envisioning a jungle house DJ set.
Hearts & Minds begins its fall tour on Thursday at H0L0, in Ridgewood, Queens.
Dred Scott, “Wild Turkeys”
Dred Scott Rides Alone is the new release from an artist typically known for his work at the piano. But this isn’t a solo-piano album. It’s a trio album on which Scott plays all the parts: piano, bass and drums. This isn’t a common occurrence — nor is it some kind of attention-grabbing stunt, judging by the depth of the music here.
On “Wild Turkeys,” one of the album’s groovier tracks, Scott offers a tip of the fedora to the definitive New Orleans piano man Professor Longhair. The end result has some of the tumbling grace you might associate with a band like Medeski Martin & Wood — though it’s worth noting again that, thanks to the art of overdubbing, this is literally a one-man band. Scott has honed this vibe partly through a longstanding residency at Rockwood Music Hall, where he’ll play the official album-release gig this Saturday, on Stage 3 at 8:30 p.m.