Hiromi Comes “Alive”

Not the savior of jazz and doesn't want to be.

Not the savior of jazz and doesn’t want to be.

 

If jazz has become a niche market in the music industry (and it has), a contributing factor for its slide into cultural irrelevance is a failure to promote and support new artists. No matter what sub-genre of jazz you personally love, across the board there is no sustained effort to develop a roster of first-tier talent in jazz. Every so often along comes a Esperanza Spalding who joins the long list of earlier “saviors” of jazz such as Wynton Marsalis or Robert Glasper and is saddled with the unasked-for responsibility of reviving interest in the incredibly shrinking jazz field.

Writing in The Root, Frank McCoy painted a gloomy picture for the idiom, “It’s even harder in jazz today as CD/album sales have plummeted. In 1999 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said that jazz sales were 3 percent of all recording sales. By 2008 they were 1.1 percent. In 2000 Soundscan reported that 18,416 jazz albums were sold; nine years later, fewer than 12,000 jazz-genre albums were purchased.”

For jazz not only to thrive, but survive, it must begin to create its own superstars who can deliver a much-needed shot of adrenalin to the flagging art form, but have skills in social media and marketing, creating a global brand, and finding new forms beyond record sales, radio play and live gigs in fewer clubs and concert halls to reach the new breed of jazz fans.

Hiromi Uehara is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the vanguard of bold creative minds revitalizing jazz. At 35, the pianist from Shizuoka, Japan, has over the span of nine albums as a bandleader and solo artist demonstrated how well she absorbed the tutoring of Ahmad Jamal and bassist Richard Evans when she matriculated at the Berklee College of Music. Hiromi has led two separate bands, Hiromi’s Sonicbloom and The Trio Project and stints with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, as well as a duet with Chick Corea have solidified her credentials as one of the best and brightest young musicians in contemporary jazz.

Hiromi_Alive_jaw

Matching her inclination for improvisation, drummer Simon Phillips and bassist Anthony Jackson hold down the rhythm responsibilities, freeing up Hiromi to do things with a piano most human beings can’t begin to imagine doing. Alive might be the finishing stroke in a trilogy of adventurous albums for the band. Nothing definite has been said by Hiromi that the group has run its course, but there is a sense of finality in the third Trio Project. Always a restless soul, it’s an open question how long Hiromi will continue this collaboration.

With Voice (Telarc, 2011) and its sequel, Move! (Telarc, 2012), Hiromi found in Phillips a drummer who could match her high velocity piano playing blow-for-blow. Jackson is the silent partner in the band who rarely takes solos and simply does his job with equal parts efficiency and creativity. He’s given opportunities to step out on Alive, but Jackson’s temperament leans to deferring to his colleagues when it’s time to let it all hang out. Overlength is at times an issue with four tracks going nine minutes in length, two clocking in at eight minutes. “Seeker” and “Firefly” both push past over seven minutes and at 6:49, the closing “Life Goes On” draws the shortest straw. Play strong, play long is the philosophy of The Trio Project, which is not a criticism, but to fully appreciate Alive , completed in only three days with Michael Bishop handling co-producing duties along with Hiromi.

Alive makes no bones about being a deep dive that necessitates several listens to fully grasp the complexity of Hiromi’s compositions., but it deserves it.  This is not simple music nor a record one pops into the CD player during a pizza run.

Sandwiched between the four albums with her Sonicbloom band and the trio of Trio Projects is Place To Be (Concord, 2010) Hiromi’s solo piano exercise where she proved even accompanied only by a piano she is a force to be reckoned with . When David Fiuczynski came aboard for 2007’s Time Control (Telarc) Hiromi could finally realize her jazz and rock synthesis with a guitarist as expressive (and equally prone to occasionally lapsing into excursions of stylistic excess) as herself. Phillips fills that role now far more harmonically than Fiuczynski whom occasionally had to struggle to be heard over Hiromi’s piano pyrotechnics.

Hiromi ‘s trust in her bandmates (and herself) free herself to simply play instead of continually dazzle with an onslaught of prodigious speed and technique. “Dreamer” is an example of that restraint with Phillips and Hiromi duking it out on their respective instruments until the 8:04 mark where they both pull back and gracefully close the frenzy with an understated climax. “Seeker” gives Jackson’s contrabass a soulful groove for his partners to work around and have some fun.

Ahmad Jamal nailed it when he observed, “Hiromi has discovered her own genre, and continues to pursue it with great sensitivity, energy, and dazzling virtuosity.” As time passes and her experience grows, Hiromi has not only become a better player, but a better listener. Compare the tasteful understatement of 2014 version of Hiromi onthe elegant “Firefly” with the frenetic, bug-on-a-hot-stove of 2004’s “Kung-Fu World Champion” and the difference is like that of night and day.

Dare we call Alive the dreaded “F” word? Fusion? Yes, and deservedly so even if this is not your daddy’s  jazz fusion. Even without the electric guitar of a John McLaughlin, or the arsenal of synthesizers employed by Herbie Hancock, The Trio Project is a legitimate inheritor of the legacy left by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius when Weather Report called it a day.

That’s heavy company, but Hiromi’s Trio Project is one of the most consistently exciting and accomplished bands making music in any genre of music. Period. End of sentence. That it is also flying under the radar of most consumers is a sad commentary on jazz today, yet still provides hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Track Listing: Alive; Wanderer; Dreamer; Seeker; Player; Warrior; Firefly; Spirit; Life Goes On.

Personnel: Hiromi Uehara: keyboards; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Simon Phillips: drums.

Record Label: Telarc Records

Hiromi_3_photo_by_Muga_Miyahara

“No, I don’t know any Peter Frampton songs, silly. “

Hiromi’s Slow Burn to Success

There are two things I’ll miss when I give up reviewing jazz this year.   The first is simple: free CD’s?   Who could gripe about that?   The second is the sublime joy of discovery that comes when a previously unknown musician is introduced to your musical world and eventually takes up permanent residence there.

It was ten years ago when Hiromi Uehara released her debut, Another Mind.   I was on my way to Nashville for a journalism workshop and I tossed the album in the bag along with the rest of the music for the road trip.   The acoustics of a car are not the optimum listening environment, but  traveling for six hours and almost 400 miles gave me plenty of opportunity to thoroughly explore the Japanese born, Berklee College of Music educated pianist.

It’s easy to view Another Mind as Hiromi’s graduating thesis paper set to music.   Among her mentors at Berklee was jazz bassist Richard Evans who taught arranging and orchestration, two skills she has put to fine usage.   Evans produced his student’s debut along with his friend and colleague, Ahmad Jamal, another stylish and visionary pianist whom Miles Davis name-checks several times in his autobiography as a major influence.

“She is nothing short of amazing,” Jamal said, “Her music, together with her overwhelming charm and spirit, causes her to soar to musical heights.”

Eight albums, two in-concert details, and collaborations with Chick Corea (Duet) and Stanley Clarke as part of an acoustic trio with drummer Lenny White on the exceptional Jazz in the Garden and again on Clarke’s “last” electric album, The Stanley Clarke Band, Hiromi is firmly established as one of the brightest young talents playing today.    Esperanza Spalding, her record label mate, gets most of the publicity as the latest “savior” of jazz, but that’s too big of a burden for her to carry alone.   Spalding should share the load with Hiromi, Robert Glasper, Stefon Harris and Jason Moran to name a few of the young lions holding true to the tradition even as they push it forward.

The opening notes of “Move” from Hiromi’s newest album of the same name start off with one note being repeated like water drip-drip-dripping from a faucet until Simon Phillips on drums and Anthony Jackson on contra-bass join together to create what she calls “three-dimensional sound.”   Clocking in at over eight minutes in length,  Hiromi constructs an elaborate pastiche of elaborate soloing, funky grooves and an interplay with Phillips and Jackson that is both exciting to hear and astonishing to see.

There is always an overarching theme to Hiromi’s recordings and Move is no different.  The nine tracks are focused on living life on a normal day.   “You wake up and go to work and then hang out, she says.  “The album is like a soundtrack for a day.”

If Move is any indication Hiromi’s days must be pretty busy.    She’s a serious person who takes the music seriously but she has always balanced her creative temperament by not taking herself too seriously.     Her approach to the music has always been while a song like “Move” is a labor of love, it is labor.   “It’s one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever written,” Hiromi says.  “I had great musicians with me, and we worked hard on that song.   In the studio and rehearsals, we spent a lot of time to play it right.  It’s very tricky because when a song sounds difficult, it’s not fun.   It has to groove and it has to go beyond ‘this is a difficult song.’  It has to make you groove and feel the rhythm.  To reach that point really took some time. ”

You mean you can’t just walk on the stage and just start playing?  You have to rehearse and learn how to play the song?    No wonder jazz gets treated like an ugly puppy nobody wants to play with.  It takes work.

Those that can’t do teach and those that can’t teach, review those that do.  That’s what my small little contribution to the health and well-being of jazz has been.   It is a source of satisfaction to know I’ve hipped others to Hiromi such as the music critic from the daily newspaper who sat with me at the annual Jazz and Rib Festival and grooved along to her live performance which is as inventive and energetic as her recordings.   It’s a good feeling to spread the knowledge about a true  talent that actually has paid her dues  and is goes about her business without  flashing skin, starting beefs, and making a spectacle of herself.

Hiromi’s way is a slow burn to success..  Letting the music instead of the hype do the talking .  It seems like such an old-fashioned approach to allow the substance to match the style,  but this is what is Hiromi is doing and  she continues to do it well.    Not everything she tries always works, but it never fails to keep me interested in what she’s doing next.    The anticipation of “what’s next?” is what motivated me to follow Miles Davis, Prince and Santana even when they led to creative blind alleys.     It hasn’t happened to Hiromi yet.   Hiromi has held my interest for a decade now and my trust has been rewarded by her continued innovative, adventurous and dazzling originality.

Jazz Needs Fewer Critics and More Fans

“Gimme a good review, Jeff!” You got it, George.

It’s been a little quiet around here.  I wasn’t planning on taking a Christmas break, but the demands of work and home call and would not be denied.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Either you’re going to do something or you’re not. If you really want to drop 25 pounds or find another job or scale the Himalayas then you will. Or you won’t.

A new year doesn’t just mark new beginnings, it can mean the end of old ways and old relationships. That’s why 2013 will be the year I stop reviewing jazz.   I’m  not having a crisis of confidence and I haven’t given up jazz in favor of death metal or country  music.   It is time to put a fork in it.   After a decade of writing and listening to jazz, I’ve used up all the words I have.  I don’t have an original thought left in me.

For months now there has been a half-dozen albums sitting on my desk waiting for me to review…and waiting..and waiting.   Some of the CDs are quite good actually.  A few are okay and one or two are totally lame.   My problem is I can’t work up any enthusiasm for even the ones I like.  It’s not exactly writer’s block.   I’m numb to it and in some ways that’s worse than not being unable to come up with 500 words for a review.

You! Go out and listen to some jazz!

I’ve contributed to All About Jazz since 2006 and written 102 reviews and several interviews. The career-spanning conversation I had with the .great George Duke was one of the best I’ve ever conducted and after it was published I knew I’d never write another for AAJ. It was epic in length, exhaustive in the research and limited in impact.  The Duke interview generated over 17,000 page hits. That’s a nice number.  For a blog post.  In relation to the time and effort I put into it the result was a big disappointment.

That’s was the point where I began to wonder, “Does this really make any difference to anyone?”

After close to a decade of writing reviews for AAJ and Jazz Review.com, I’m gratified for all the music I’ve been allowed to hear and the artists I’ve been allowed to interview. Speaking with Patti Austin, Keiko Matsui, Harvey Mason, George Benson, Rachel Z., Everette Harp, Gerri Allen, Cheryl Bentyne, Jane Monheit, Paul Jackson, Jr., Jessy J., Nestor Torres, Chris Standring, Al Jarreau and Cindy Bradley among others was big fun. Musicians are my most favorite persons to interview.

Yet I’m frustrated that the following of jazz is so small. I’m frustrated when an artist asks me what the best venue for live jazz in town is and my answer is “There isn’t one.” I’m frustrated even when I give a jazz release a four-star rating, it will be nearly impossible to walk into what’s left of the music section of a Wal-Mart, Best Buy or Barnes & Noble and buy it.

Check out Billboard’s 2012 Year-End Charts for Jazz Albums and you know what sold the best?  A Michael Buble Christmas album!   Michael Buble?  Are you yanking me?

Can the savior of jazz get a chair?

It gets worse.  The top Five is rounded out by Duets II by Tony Bennett, Kisses On the Bottom by Paul McCartney, Dead Sinatra’s Best of the Rest, and That’s Life from Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., whom I’ve never heard of, but I guess he was on “American Idol” so that makes him a big deal.   The first album I’ve even heard of is Esperanza Spalding‘s Radio Music Society at No. 6 ( and I thought it was lousy).

My favorite jazz recording of 2012 was Najee’s  The Smooth Side of Soul which came in at #26.   It’s been that kind of year.

Jazz is not dead. It’s not even sick. As long as there are young artists still playing pianos, strumming guitars, pounding drums and blowing horns, the tradition carries on. What I fear is jazz being ignored. You don’t hear it on the radio. You never see it on television. Jazz is not the music of the young. It’s a tough time to be a fan if you don’t live in a city with a jazz scene or radio stations that still program it.

Going forward, I’m looking forward to Hiromi’s  “Move” upcoming in March.    The Japanese piano virtuoso has been a consistently interesting talent whose rise I’ve followed since 2003.    When Hiromi released her third album Brain in 2006,  I positively bubbled with excitement.   THIS is why we love jazz. It’s exciting to see an artist develop. It’s thrilling to hear how self-assured and confident a group of musicians can become when they learn, grow and develop their talents together. It’s a joyous and satisfying experience when it all comes together in a burst of aesthetic brilliance. “

I meant every hyperbolic word, but I don’t get that feeling as often from as many jazz artists any longer.

I may not give up critiquing jazz entirely, but I will ring down the curtain on my AAJ contributions. My taste in jazz  always were more mainstream than the majority of their writers.   I know a lot about jazz artists, but many times AAJ’s annual  “Best of” lists  didn’t have a single name on it I recognized.   There isn’t much use for someone who prefers  Fourplay,  Jeff Lorber or Norman Brown to some Yugoslavian thumb piano player.

My love for jazz  still runs strong, but I’ve run out of words to express that love.  I began covering this music because I wanted to spread what Kirk Whalum calls “the gospel according to jazz.”   I’m still  excited by its endless energy and uncanny creativity, but I have doubts I’ve been as effective advocate for jazz as I hoped I would.  Looking at  what is currently riding high on the smooth jazz charts and it’s more like “snooze jazz” to me.

Maybe what jazz needs are fewer critics getting the music for free and more paying fans to keep it alive.

Jazz doesn’t need saviors. It needs supporters.

Esperanza Spalding Can’t Save Jazz (and shouldn’t be expected to).

If Spalding is supposed to save jazz, then jazz is in a lot of trouble.

When you’ve been invited to perform for the President of the United States, turned heads as the bass-playing beauty in the Academy Awards house band, toured with Prince and beat out teen dream Justin Bieber for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, you’re having a very good run in the spotlight—and it could turn your head.

From time-to-time an artist gets dubbed as the new savior of jazz. Usually this title is handed out by publications with only a cursory interest in jazz. It’s possible Spalding neither sought nor seeks the responsibility, but with success comes expectation and the expectation is that Radio Music Society, Spalding’s fourth album and her first since her Grammy upset, will be popular in a way few jazz albums have, at least since since guitarist George Benson and saxophonist Kenny G were at their commercial peaks.

The problem with Radio Music Society is it’s only okay as jazz and is tentative as pop music. Spalding is a musician, songwriter, lyricist, arranger and producer and while she does all of this adequately, she does none of it spectacularly.

Everything that has ever been wrong with Spalding is still wrong on Radio Music Society. She’s competent on bass without being exceptional. Her voice is thin and her range limited. The earnestness of her lyrics is overcome by the lumpiness in the delivery. For an album polished and created with maximum airplay in mind, Radio Music Society is noticeably missing a key component of successful pop music: a killer hook. There are multiple vocalists, a choir, a huge horn section, strings, drummers and rappers all over this sprawling record, yet Spalding’s arrangements are sparse and lacking in energy.

“I Can’t Help It,” a Stevie Wonder composition that was performed by Michael Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones for Jackson’s Off the Wall (Epic, 1979,) was then a sweet and soulful little slice of pop heaven livened by Jackson’s energy and affinity for the material. By contrast, Spalding just plows through with an indifferent interpretation that squanders a tenor saxophone solo by Joe Lovano.

Much more successful is “Black Gold,” the stand-out which is an ode to black youth remaining positive in the face of criticism and skepticism. It features an effective duet between Spalding and Algebra Blessett’s stronger vocal abilities. Despite a meandering conclusion, it’s a pretty lead-off single that will doubtlessly play well with younger listeners attuned to Spalding’s neo-soul stylings. “Cinnamon Tree” benefits from Olivia DePrato and Jody Rednage on violin and cello respectively and a soaring guitar solo from Jef Lee Johnson.

Those that bother reading liner notes will notice the familiar names of veterans such as Lovano, Terri Lyne Carrington, Billy Hart and Jack De Johnette as well as vocal contributions from Lalah Hathaway and Leni Stern and assume there will be enough serious jazz to offset the pop aspirations. They may be taken aback once they hear the clunky and heavy-handed environmental message in the lyrics Spalding penned for Wayne Shorter’s “Endangered Species.”

Radio Music Society is Spalding’s first all vocals/no instrumentals record and was conceived with maximum airplay in mind as the first track, “Radio Song,” practically declares. For those digging on Spalding’s girlish but limited range, they know exactly what to expect; but clocking in at over six minutes in length, wafer-thin vocals, knotty shifts in tone, and lacking a chorus to sing along with, “Radio Song” isn’t likely to give Adele anything to worry about when it comes to airplay supremacy.

Two years after its release, Chamber Music Society (Telarc, 2010) was still riding high as the sixth best-selling album on Billboard’s 2011 jazz chart and there is no reason to think the more overtly commercial Radio Music Society won’t perform even better. Despite the fact that it’s unfocused, messy and seems to go on longer than its nearly hour long playing time, this will easily be the biggest jazz album of 2012 (which is absolutely not the same as saying it is the best jazz album of 2012).

The deluxe edition includes a DVD with 11 videos (only “Endangered Species” doesn’t receive one). It’s a mixed bag because the songs that don’t really work on the CD, like “Vague Suspicions,” don’t work any better because there’s a visual to go along with the audio. Spalding is pretty, but she’s not a convincing actress and some of the story ideas are corny, embarrassing or both. The DVD includes bonus material including a 16-minute “making of” the videos.

Radio Music Society aims high and when it succeeds it achieves its ambitious, audacious agenda. A lot of this hinges on Spalding’s big goals, big talent and big hair. She is till a work in progress and even when her ambitions exceed her accomplishments Spalding is still one of the most interesting artists working today. It remains to be seen if she’s really “the One” or the latest in a long list of would-be jazz “saviors.”

Not that jazz necessarily needs one.   All the genre needs is exposure, airplay and some respect.  Jazz has had supposed saviors before.  Kenny G.’s snooze saxophone and Wynton Marsalis’ straight ahead approach taking jazz back to the roots were both hailed as “gateway artists” whose success would surely draw new listeners to jazz.  Has it really worked out that way?  It’s possible, but it doesn’t seem like its worked out that way. 

This review originally appeared at All About Jazz.com

Congratulations, Esperanza Spalding. Who Are You?

The underdog beats the top dog.

Even though I’m not the biggest Esperanza Spalding fan in the world,  I’ve got to give girlfriend some love.   Nobody expected some bass-player with a big ass Afro to beat out this year’s boy toy, Justin Bieber, for the Best New Artist Grammy, but that’s exactly what she did.   Whenever the underdog beats out the top dog,  that’s worth noting.

Facebook and  Twitter blew up with people wishing her well, posting links to her videos and just generally celebrating the sister’s upset victory.   And I’ll bet percent of them have no idea who the hell Esperanza Spalding  is.  If  you could turn those congratulations into actual sales of her albums, she’d really have something to be happy about.

What’s been funny and simultaneously embarrassing to see how many Black people are ignorant of jazz and blues, but can hum every note of the latest Justin Bieber joint.

Like Nikki Giovanni said, “Ain’t we got NO shame?”     When more White folks are hip to jazz than the people who invented the genre in favor of some punk kid with a bad haircut fronted by Usher, it’s time for some mandatory remedial instruction in W.C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton and Edward Kennedy Ellington,  bitches!

I was talking to a woman who owns a really nice local jazz nightclub.  She put a post on Facebook asking people if they could have any act, living or dead, play the club, who would they want to see?   The answers included the likes of Prince, Sade, Michael Jackson, Bryan McKnight to play a 250 seat club.   I was like, c’mon people!   Gimme a break!   The lady sent me a message that she has to book acts with singers or she can’t get a decent turn out.  How pathetic is that?   If Herbie Hancock came to town would he have to start “singing” through a vocoder or do an extended version of “Rockit” before folks would show up?   That is sad, sad, sad.

I have two teenagers, one about to turn 21 and the other 17 in a matter of months, who have no interest in jazz music.  It’s as mysterious and as exotic to them as the Dead Sea Scrolls.   They know about Kanye and Ludacris and Beyoncé.   They don’t know jack about Miles and Nat and Ella.

There was a Bieber Backlash as some asshole fans crashed Spalding’s website, trashed her Wikipedia entry with death threats “YOU SHOULD GO DIE IN A HOLE…WHO THE HECK ARE YOU ANYWHERE” one fanatic posted in all-caps and accused the jazz bassist of “stealing” the award from Bieber.

Esperanza feels the love from the Grammys

The wrath of pimply, pissed-off,  prepubescent  girls under the influence of Bieber Fever is a force not to be underestimated.   Boo-fucking-hoo, ladies.   Your idol’s got a crappy 3-D movie stinking up the theaters.   Go watch that and have a good cry.   That’s show biz, kids.

Ah well, maybe it’s not so important as to shrug off whether Esperanza deserves the big push (“The brightest star on the jazz horizon?”   Please.) she’s getting as it is to applaud her providing what President Obama likes to call, “a teachable moment.”   I’d hate to think all my jazz albums might as well be burnt up right along with me when I kick off and they toast me up in the crematorium.    If Spalding’s success turns a few inquiring minds on to jazz, that’s not a bad thing.

So what if she doesn’t have a feature film or isn’t dampening the panties of 13-year old girls?   Justin Bieber  never got a round of applause from the President of the United States.    It all evens out eventually.

Esperanza Spalding: Jazz’s Great Hope or Hype?

"Wanna hear me play 'Purple Haze' on this thing?"

Whenever a new CD arrives in the mail I open it with the hope it’s going to be something I will be excited to listen to and I will be motivated to write a glowing review recommending it to potential buyers.

Sometimes that’s exactly how it plays out.  Most of the time it’s just a chore.   There’s a lot of music out there and a good deal of it is bad, boring, forgettable or all three.

Which is why I was absolutely surprised to read of Esperanza Spalding receiving a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.   Jazz artists don’t usually get thrown in the mix right along with pop acts like Justin Bieber and Drake.   It looks like the big push her record label put behind Chamber Music Society,  her newest album, really paid off.

It helps if you can come up with a particularly compelling hook to separate you from the pack.   Spalding’s is she  sings and plays the acoustic bass;  an instrument that looks bigger that she is.   The fact that’s she’s easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt either.  Spalding played for President Obama at his Nobel Prize presentation and was invited by Prince to perform on his “Welcome 2 America” tour.

Well,  good for Esperanza.   It’s a nice change to see an actual musician getting a little taste of some acclaim and awards.   Maybe she’ll make a buck or two as well.

Unfortunately, I can’t stand Chamber Music Society.  It is a terrible album  which I had to force myself to listen to in its entirety.   I had a root canal I enjoyed more.    It was easily one of the worst records I’ve heard all year.

Everything about the album screamed “big push” about Chamber Music Society.  The art, photography and packaging were first-class all the way.  You just don’t see that kind of time and expense put into a jazz record that might sell several thousand–maybe.    Then again, for most folks their image of jazz is either some old Black dude honking into a saxophone or Kenny G. noodling away on some snooze jazz shit.    There’s a definite “hey, she’s a babe” vibe to Spalding’s sudden success.

It’s not in her music, that’s for sure.   Yes, she plays some competently, but it’s not going to inspire a nation of anorexic teenage girls to pull their fingers out of their mouths to pick up the upright bass.   Spalding is good, but she’s hardly transcendent.

Then there’s her singing.  She sang a lot on her previous album, Esperanza and she’s singing even more on Chamber Music Society.   That’s a mistake as I noted when I reviewed the record for All About Jazz.

...she’s going to have to decide whether she’s a bassist who sings, or a singer who plays bass. She may choose to be both, but while Spalding is a capable vocalist, she has a long way to go before she becomes an exceptional one. As a bassist, she’s much closer.

As the principal musician, songwriter, composer and producer, Esperanza Spalding might have been better served to have an executive producer supervising. There is a lot of ground covered here; and while she’s brimming with ideas, this album is crying out for some judicious editing. You can hear the joy and passion of this 23-year-old talent, and you certainly can’t criticize her for enthusiasm.

The trouble is Spalding doesn’t know when to quit when she’s ahead. Clocking in at over an hour in length, she doesn’t really have enough first-rate material to justify the running time. Some of the songs go on too long, meander tediously and become a bit repetitious. Spalding’s intentions never seem less than a willingness to please and demonstrate her considerable chops, but she doesn’t yet know that more isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more, and a little restraint could have boosted Esperanza from “pretty good” to “great.

Shows what I know because everything I worried about in 2008–her lack of vocal strength and range, her tendency toward excess and a lack of first-rate material–is made even worse in 2010.

Look,  maybe it’s just me.   No two people hear the same thing the same way.   I listen to Spalding and I hear someone who isn’t as good a singer as she believes she is.   I report and you decide for yourself.

In a conversation with a jazz fan, I said I was so disappointed by Spalding’s record I passed on reviewing it.   When you know you’re going to be the lone holdout and you’re yawning at what everybody else is raving about, maybe it’s you that’s the odd ball.    Sometimes it really is better to say nothing at all when you can’t say anything nice and I had nothing nice to say about Chamber Music Society.

We agreed Spalding is not the Next Big Thing.   If anything,  Spalding is a victim of too much, too soon.   She’s still too young (26 years old), too inexperienced as a supporting player though she has worked with vets like Joe Lovano and McCoy Tyner.   It’s ready or not, Spalding has been appointed the newest savior of jazz music.

Jazz always needs new blood.   While it’s true the old guys are doing nothing but getting older and there’s a serious lack of interest in jazz in America, the genre has been pronounced dying or dead for years.   But jazz not only survives, it thrives.     It’s a good thing that someone like Spalding comes along, but it’s her looks as much as her music that’s drawing attention.

Spalding’s follow-up, Radio Music Society drops early in 2011 with her switching from acoustic to electric bass.   I won’t prejudge an album I haven’t heard yet, but my expectation is a little less playing and even more singing.    She’s not so young she doesn’t know what’s going to help her get over.

Eat your heart out, Troy Polamalu.