Esperanza Spalding

On February 27, one of the coldest nights of 2014, jazz musicians Jack DeJonette, Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese played the legendary Massey Hall in Toronto.

It was a slow start to the set. The first few tunes felt as if four master impressionist painters were working on the same canvas. Distant. Conceptual. Cold even. Confusing. I couldn’t see the picture.

It wasn’t until bass player, Esperanza Spalding started to sing that the concert came to life.

All fell into place and the room warmed up. Something about the direct communication of the human voice trumps translation via brass, steel strings and fibreglass. There is something about her voice in particular that is transcendent.

Spalding told us that in ancient Greece, people would come to philosopher Hystaspes with their problems. In response to one particular question, he just shrugged. ‘There is no record of the question,’ she said. ‘This piece is what the question might have been.’ Then she was off, vocally diving, spinning, notes turning in on themselves, like a bird reveling in the ecstasy of flying.

 

Years ago, in this same venue, Ornette Coleman and band transported me to another universe. DeJonette, Lovano, Genovese and Spalding, took me soaring around this one.

 

It’s sometimes hard for humans to hear melody in natural sounds and recognize it as musical.

Jazz musicians have been re-creating nature forever. At one point saxophonist Lovano, was joined on sax by both Spalding and Genovese. They swooped, a warbling flock of birds.

DeJohnette, on drums, held up the earth catching them as they dove into traditional melody.

I have to say ‘on drums’, because one of the most magical moments of concert was the duet between Genovese on piano and DeJonette on melodica. In another piece ‘Ethiopian Blues’, the quartet blew apart the form and flew off into the night.

The entire audience stood at the end of the concert, to insist on the one encore of the evening.

The soaring ‘Dirvish’ featured DeJohnette on dunbeck and Genovese on everything else from sitar to vibes. Afterwards, we reluctantly landed, bundled up and trudged back out into the cold.

Jack DeJonette, Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese, thank you for the flight.

 

© Gloria Blizzard is a Toronto-based writer

     Photo: Esperanza Spalding (Johann Sauty)