Esperanza Spalding, Songwrights Apothecary Lab, Concord Records *****

Where's the antidote? Who has the formula? Has the healing begun? It's true that Esperanza Spalding album Songwrights Apothecary Lab sounds like nothing else this year. But when news of this project started to spool out there was a certain amount …

Published: 28 Sep 2021. Updated: 29 days.

Where's the antidote? Who has the formula? Has the healing begun?

It's true that Esperanza Spalding album Songwrights Apothecary Lab sounds like nothing else this year.

But when news of this project started to spool out there was a certain amount of bafflement in some quarters at the concept. The Grammy-winning bassist singer-composer-bandleader and all-round musical genius talked about the pursuit of these ''Formwela'' pieces aiming at ''de-stressing'' and ''de-escalation''. So was this going to be an exercise in wellness and self-help with the centre all hollowed out? As it turns out, no.

'Formwela 2' is sprawling with an Indo-jazz heart to it featuring vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy; '3' is more a conventional vocal although there is nothing conventional about this extraordinary often deeply soulful album. 'Formwela 4' again becomes more quantifiable as a song and yet there is such layering and structural shape-shifting even against a sunny guitar accompaniment.

Collaborators on the album include drummer Francisco Mela, pianist Leo Genovese, guitarist Matthew Stevens, and saxophonist Aaron Burnett. Spalding is touring again including a recent appearance on the same bill as Herbie Hancock. Corey King duetting shadows Esperanza's mezzo epecially well on '5'. There is an operatic intensity to the whole album produced by Spalding. The album has a wide panorama and feels far more expansive than most jazz albums this year. In that sense her work as a composer compares well with how Wayne Shorter can arrive at a destination by a totally different musical route. The seventh 'Formwela' is the most healing of the tracks while Spalding's bass opens '8' and the jazz structures seem more familiar given this beginning and when the band join. '9' begins like a pep talk and then goes into a beautiful vocal space that scales Kate Bush-like intensity and channels what can only be called a spiritual energy. How can anybody else really know what it's like to be you, the lyric asks. There is a punchy directness to '10' a piece about the damage of love and its consequences. 'Formwela 13' is as experimental as the album. Adjust your ears first, you will need to given the uniqueness of the sound and you will know that the healing has begun, part of the point of the whole idea after all. It's clear that this is a major work and one of the year's best albums in terms of sheer innovation and experimental endeavour that achieves a rare sense of ignition and the clarity of discovery at many key moments throughout. Stephen Graham

Tags:

Big uplift in readership on marlbank in 2021 so far latest figures indicate

latest news about the site Marlbank has notched up more than 60,000 additional page views in 2021 compared to the equivalent figure in 2020 during the first nine months of last year. More than 27,500 new readers have visited the site this year so …

Published: 27 Sep 2021. Updated: 30 days.

Next post

logo.svg

latest news about the site

Marlbank has notched up more than 60,000 additional page views in 2021 compared to the equivalent figure in 2020 during the first nine months of last year.

More than 27,500 new readers have visited the site this year so far, according to the latest figures on Google Analytics. That's more than 750 new readers each week this year.

You are also spending longer on each page and our bounce rate is more than 12 per cent better than last year.

It's all very encouraging. Marlbank continues to grow rapidly. But we need your support to keep going. The mission continues to provide a daily service when there is a paucity of jazz coverage both in print and online compared to other niche areas pointing to a need and appetite for the site as well as increased readership underlining the hunch. Help in any way you can and we can do even more as we continue to develop the offering and contribute to the dissemination of jazz through music journalism online. Thanks to Ronan and Jason at SugarProjects for all their excellent work. Suggestions, feedback and interactions are all welcome. stephen@marlbank.net