Esperanza Spalding’s latest album, Chamber Music Society, has been attracting considerable interest and exceptional reviews in the run up to and since its release in August, and is worthy of note to Blake fans because of the inclusion of the opening track, “Little Fly”, based on Blake’s poem of the same name.
(For Blakespotters, some of the press and online reviews are also interesting because of the opportunity offered to trot out various aphorisms, puns and other tools of the trade: Jazzwise, for example, noted that the album was an example of some songs of innocence and experience, and cited Blake’s “Without contraries there is no progression” to sum up its opinion of her.)
Spalding, a jazz multi-instrumentalist best known for her work on bass, was born in Portland, Oregon and had taught herself violin by the age of 5. Intending to progress to cello, she discovered the bass after she had won a scholarship to The Northwest Academy. A number of awards and accolades followed (including the Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship in 2005) and she released two albums, Junjo (2006) and Esperanza (2008), before Chamber Music Society.
Spalding’s own jazz influences include Ron Carter (bass) and Wayne Shorter (saxaphone), though her interests in music also encompass fusion, Hispanic and Portugese styles, many of which are evident on Chamber Music Society as well as jazz. Regarding the role of Blake’s poem, in an interview with NPR radio, she remarked:
I remember being in Portland and picking this book — the painting on the cover of the book struck me. I had no idea what it was; I just saw the painting,” Spalding says. “And the first page I turn to was this poem. In the store, I read the poem about 10 times. It’s just an incredibly powerful, simple little poem. I bought the book and put that poem above my desk. It’s been in front of my face for eight or nine years. Two years ago, practicing this melody, [I thought] I definitely want to put lyrics to this, and I realized that it fit the poem to a T. Somehow, my subconscious really wanted to sing this to the people.
Having finally heard the album, I can only add my own observations to those of more experienced commentators that “Little Fly” is a bright and fresh interpretation of Blake, gentle, melancholy and very beautiful. You can hear more of Spalding’s work on her web site, www.esperanzaspalding.com/ and on MySpace.