Alter-ego takes over for Esperanza Spalding during theatrical Jazz Fest performance

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It's tough to accurately describe to you what happened in a rather smoky Burton Cummings Theatre for the closing show of Jazz Fest Sunday night. What was made apparent immediately was Grammy-award winner Esperanza Spalding as we know her would not be performing. Instead, her alter-ego Emily took centre stage to offer up something a little different.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/06/2015 (2606 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s tough to accurately describe to you what happened in a rather smoky Burton Cummings Theatre for the closing show of Jazz Fest Sunday night. What was made apparent immediately was Grammy-award winner Esperanza Spalding as we know her would not be performing. Instead, her alter-ego Emily took centre stage to offer up something a little different.

A hunched over Emily/Spalding made her way slowly onto a dark stage, her bright orange sneakers the only thing guiding her way. Opening things with Good Lava, Spalding was only just preparing the crowd for what was to come — an electric set full of theatrics.

Spalding has said she wanted the Emily D + Evolution tour to nearly fall into the realm of performance art, and if that’s the case, she definitely achieved it. Taking a break between songs to award herself and her backup singers some diplomas, donning a floral headpiece and jumping behind the bar (piano) to serve drinks, the theatrics and poetry of her performance were effective in creating that performance-art ambiance. Each section like a little vignette taking on a different tone that took its cue from the song she injected into it.

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Esperanza Spalding performs at the Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg Sunday.

The music performed as Emily is notably more harsh than Spalding’s past work; it’s buzzing and loud and rough around the edges, but showcases her voice just as well. Even as Emily, the jazziness of her voice peeked through — her control as she hopped from her lower range into falsetto is a skill that cannot go unnoticed. During times when the storyline became pretty murky, Spalding’s rounded and powerful voice made everything make sense.

There is something inherently cool about an amazing lady bassist and Spalding is no exception. Show antics aside, she is sneakily unassuming about how good she is. She plays incredibly intricate bass lines like it’s just a walk in the park — rocking out an especially impressive solos in Funk the Fear and breathtaking show-closer Unconditional Love. When things look too easy, that’s when you know they aren’t.

Things got a little weird at times (including a pretty, smooth jam titled Judas, about who else but the ultimate betrayer), but Spalding’s talent seemed to transcend it all. She’s sassy and commands the stage in a way only a seasoned performer can do. She’s confident in her work regardless of performing entirely new material — a terrifying thing for any artist to do.

The crowd seemed more than OK with it though, awarding Spalding’s performance a standing ovation, making it clear Emily is welcome back to Winnipeg anytime.

Rayannah keeps audience in the loop

Loop-pedal extraordinaire Rayannah kicked off the night with a set that proved to be the best possible example of where modern jazz can go. Technology was at the forefront — her layers upon layers of vocals looped and repeated created dense yet uncluttered songs — but the classic jazz techniques of scatting and improvisation were not far behind.

It takes an incredible amount of confidence to use that much looping live — each note must be in exactly the right spot (tonally and timing-wise) in order for each layer to be added successfully. Rayannah powered through her set masterfully; she was focused and precise. A few notes were off here and there, most notably in her upper register, which at times felt quite forced, but that’s easy to overlook knowing how much pressure that one voice is under. Especially moving was her final piece, Tempête, a crisp and twinkling tune that ended her set on a literal and figurative high note.

 

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @Nirerabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar spends her time thinking of, and implementing, ways to improve the interaction and connection between the Free Press newsroom and its readership.

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