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Esperanza Spalding performs at College Street Music Hall

Michael Quick

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Esperanza Spalding is a Berklee-educated, Grammy-winning, multi-instrumental musical prodigy from Portland, Oregon who made her way through New Haven’s own College Street Music Hall this past Sunday, April 17. Spalding has been touring to promote her most recent album, Emily’s D+Evolution. This album, and tour, is a massive departure from her earlier jazz/fusion works; this release leans more on the dense, progressive-rock side of the spectrum.

The relatively recently opened (May 2015) College Street Music Hall is where Esperanza Spalding put on her wildly different performance on Sunday. One part concert, one part performance art this show was unlike any that I had ever seen, unmatched in both theatricality and musicality.

The stage was open for the most part, having the majority of the instruments tucked away in the back, stage right corner. Besides this, the perimeter of the stage was filled with props. Stage left featured a filled bookshelf and an iron fence which the backup vocalists (all dressed in completely canary yellow outfits) stood behind.

The theatricality didn’t end with the props, during the first song, Spalding burst onto the stage through a partially ripped curtain featuring a painted mountain range. Clad in a glittering crown and tasseled leather pants, colored in a way that was reminiscent of a lava lamp, she strutted about the stage effortlessly playing her fretless five string bass and singing exquisite melodies simultaneously. Throughout the show, the interplay between Spalding and the other vocalists was brilliantly choreographed in a way that had the concert-goer wondering whether every small movement was part of the show or not. It was engrossing. For one piece Spalding brought a tall wooden box center stage and beckoned to one of the backup vocalists to open it. When she did, it revealed a small stage with two marionettes on the inside, one of which in Spalding’s likeness. The vocalist and a stage hand who had walked on stage then began to control the marionettes along with the music in the background.

On top of all of this, Esperanza Spalding performed some of the most beautiful music. Her compositions feature such a wide range of emotions and meanings all the while maintaining a groove and listenable quality, seldom found in other pieces in the art music category. The way that she played with dissonance within the harmonies and melodies of her songs is indescribably gorgeous. She is on a whole other level and this show is one that I will not soon forget.

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Esperanza Spalding performs at College Street Music Hall