Esperanza Spalding – ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ (Album Review)

On Emily’s D+Evolution (pronounced “D-plus-evolution”), Esperanza Spalding is a badass black punk rock frontwoman making her jazz musicianship work for her in a way that it didn’t on her last album, Radio Music Society.

With that 2012 release, she won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), but to quote my fellow Nextbop writer J.D. Swerzenski, she was “working hard to include chunks of genre into each track, rather than effectively blending them together.”

When gaps in Spalding’s ability appeared on Radio Music Society–something that is expected and inevitable with such an ambitious project, she seemed to add more bells and whistles, artificial complexity.

However, Emily’s D+Evolution finds her relying more on her brilliantly chosen and enthusiastically open trio-mates, guitarist Matthew Stevens (Christian Scott) and Karriem Riggins (Madlib, Erykah Badu).

This comes as the direct result of finding their group voice during live performances, and while these songs are absolutely hers, Stevens’ and Riggins’ creative contributions give an added depth and fluency to the experience, not unlike the instrumentalists’ role on David Bowie’s Blackstar released earlier this year.

When you haven’t put out an album in almost four years, there’s a lot to cover. Beholden to no one, Spalding covers it with style, so much so that she even created a new persona, Emily.

Emily is Spalding’s middle name and what she was called as a child; so, as you might imagine, this music represents an aesthetic and a way of being she may have pursued had her life not been drawn towards jazz performance and composition.

As a result, Emily’s D+Evolution is very much not jazz. But this album wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t jazz musicians performing.

The range of emotions portrayed within even just one song (“Ebony and Ivy”), the range of dynamics across the album and within each song (“Earth to Heaven”), and the range of song structures and styles (“Elevate or Operate”) all required a mastery of musical knowledge and many different techniques.

With distorted guitar power chords, rebellious lyrics, and solid rock drum grooves, Esperanza Spalding breathes life into Emily without micromanaging her D+Evolution.

By letting this album grow organically with assists from the other musicians, Spalding has created a work of art that will stay on playlists longer and will still hopefully at the same time garner her the notoriety her past exploits have.