Music

Esperanza Spalding + Jonathan Batiste: 28 June 2009 - Central Park Summerstage, New York

Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Two emerging young jazz players showcased their talents in a hot and sunny afternoon performance at Central Park’s ongoing free Summerstage series. Opening the afternoon was 22-year-old Jonathan Batiste. From New Orleans, and enriched in its cultural soul, Batiste had a primary music education through his family’s Batiste Brothers Band, before coming of age with his 2005 debut, Times in New Orleans. Leading his own, youthful, ensemble Batiste was precocious and raw. Beginning his set on melodica, he strolled out to center stage with a trio of saxophones playing Monk’s “Round Midnight”. The melodica somehow lent the piece an increasingly romantic and nostalgic tone. But romance wasn’t on Mr. Batiste’s agenda. He ripped through some rowdier numbers including “New Orleans Blues Boy”, a song with a quick, strong beat and contrapuntal lines that chased each other around like a cat and mouse, and then slowed things down for a Star Wars-themed dirge of sorts. The highlight of his set could have been a cover of “Billie Jean” -- complete with short black trousers, Jackson tour tee, and glittery scarf -- but by this point the failed tunings of his youthful support where too overwhelming and distracting. A cover of “What a Wonderful World” eased the pain quite well, however, as Mr. Batiste proved himself a capable performer when cool and confidant.

At the formative age of 24, bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding seems destined for great things as her playing and career gain speed. In May she played Michele Obama’s “Poetry, Music and Spoken Word” event held at the White House, performing Lauryn Hill’s “Tell Him”. Ms. Hill’s commanding voice and multifarious sound are an apt comparison for Spalding’s immense talents. Here, she quickly immersed the crowd in her eclectic mix of tropics and jazz over stirring vocals. Introducing herself and her agenda, she cooed about soul, jazz’s compelling need for it, and how what she was going to do that afternoon to help. Throughout her set she switched styles and instruments, between an augmented upright acoustic bass and electric one, such that her dynamic playing matched only the energy in her whimsically virtuosic voice. It was capable of restrained relaxed laments, or pyrotechnic scats that jumped out from inside her. Depending on the mood her voice either dripped delicately or flowed in powerful torrents. Her deft quartet matched her every step, providing a cerebral but flexible accompaniment on drums, piano, and electric guitar. Spalding’s set consisted mostly of faster paced repertory like, “She Got to You”. This speed particularly suited her drummer, whose lightness elevated the group’s sound to match Spalding’s powerful vocals. After finishing her set the crowd was emphatic about getting her back onstage and Spalding naturally obliged, though it was clearly a genuinely earnest gesture. For her encore she got the crowd to sing the chorus on “I Adore You”, carrying it all the way to her graceful exit.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image