This morning, whilst listening to Esperanza Spalding's 'Radio Music Society' for the third time (great album), a giant of a metaphorical penny dropped belatedly onto my lap and proved the integral cog in a thought process, the resultant echoes of which are still floating irritatingly around my mind. The 'process' to which I refer saw me subconsciously exercising that most basic of human procedures; the attribution of a new or complex entity to something more familiar in order to make it seem less concerning. In this case, a number of funk motifs and irregular jazz-based grooves in Spalding's album were instantly processed by my brain and linked with the music of Beyonce. This is not a passive aggressive slight at the music of Ms Knowles, I just happen to be more conversant in her work due to its presence in the mainstream media. In fact upon further inspection, the genre divides, which I clearly used to feel separated the two artist's to an extent so as never to have noticed their similarity, appear to have diminished considerably. This got me thinking, is Esperanza Spalding the Beyonce figure that contemporary jazz has been crying out for?
- Stature and Power
In terms of stature, both artists are not dissimilar; Beyonce's onstage presence and recently conjured alter ego 'Sasha Fierce' both clearly convey notions of control and dominance, a characteristic which many audience members find alluring and part of her spectacle; no one commands a stage quite like Beyonce.
Similarly, however, the sight of a musician wrapped purposefully around the gargantuan double bass is something which usually draws attention, even when placed in its conventional position, at the side of the main focus. Therefore when Esperanza Spalding lurches the instrument to the front of the stage and plays with the aggressive attentiveness of Thelonious Monk whilst simultaneously leading the ensemble vocally, there is not a shadow of doubt that she is in control.
2. Musical Similarities
Although gender and heritage play no major part in my comparison of these two artists, and I deplore any thought that this artistic resemblance goes no deeper than that, it is important to note that background, cultural or biological, can have a certain bearing on a musicians output. Being that both artists are female American's with strong family links to African American society, it could be argued that the inherent audible homology is bought about due to similarities in the music that they were exposed to growing up, but that is speculation.
Instead it is more conclusive to analyse their music aesthetically. Harmonically, for example, Beyonce's later albums seem to have moved away from a 'safer' generic R&B sound and adopted a number of chordal dissonances and funk inspired grooves, also a prominent feature of Spalding's output. The combination of the aforementioned harmonic elements in addition to the pairs not dissimilar vocal approaches, provides a 'Different approach to the same goal' type of connection between the two musically. It's as if they're both aiming for the same album and are moving in parallel along two different paths to get to it.
3. Revered and In Control
It would unwise of me to neglect that both artists are, to the commercial market, very separable; Beyonce is noted as one of the finest and most appreciated artists of our time, whilst Spalding is often outlined as a 'Leading light' in the jazz world; a tag which just doesn't seem to mean anything when the genre finds itself in its momentary niche state. This difference however comes down to nothing more than money reaped and records sold. If we look at both women simultaneously, they are both revered as incredible talents within their fields, they are both seen to be changing the face of their genres respectively (musically and image wise), they both seem very in control of their artistic output, and they are both artists which I, along with a great number of others, see as fulfilling that romantic 'I built myself from nothing on a bundle of raw talent' mould which makes them so likeable.