More than a dozen photographers eagerly lined the Music Haven stage on Sunday when Esperanza Spalding took over the place and instantly won over every jazz and pop fan in sight and hearing. One of the hottest new stars around at just 23, she played bass, she sang, she wrote many of the songs in her 65-minute set: She unwrapped the whole package.
She and her quartet proclaimed “Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul,” in Betty Carter’s classic, staying in vintage mode with “Body & Soul” sung in English, although it’s in Spanish on her album “Esperanza.” The original pop-song “Precious” was more emphatic than as performed recently on “Late Night with David Letterman.”
An amazing amount of sound, soulfulness and smarts erupted from Spalding, and her band was with her every note. The complex-time Brazilian bebop of “Winter Sun” may have been their sharpest and most challenging ensemble workout, but they handled it with unanimous aplomb and let the crowd down easy with just guitar and the crowd’s hand-claps linked in the coda.
Ricardo Vogt’s fat arch-top guitar echoed her Oscar Pettiford-like playing in “Jazz,” and his folding electro-acoustic co-starred in the climactic “Ponta de Areia,” sung in Portuguese. In “Wild Is the Wind,” inspired by Nina Simone, pianist Leonardo Genovese emulated Brazilian bandoneon (button accordion), but otherwise embellished or extrapolated like Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans. When she hit and held a super-high note in “Wild,” his melodica seamlessly blended in and carried it higher.
Drummer Otis Brown III was a rock, kick and snare deep in the pocket and hi-hat pushing and pulling. When the whole quartet vamped, Spalding was one of the guys, but she was the hottest soloist in an ensemble of experts; and she didn’t have to wait until her solo encore of “Midnight Sun” to claim the large crowd’s full attention. She grabbed that whenever she opened her mouth to sing, or steered her bass into a solo.
Spalding’s fingers and voice impressed as expertly wielded instruments, but her brain — capable of dazzling divisions of labor between beats and melody, soaring treble and booming but fleet bass — was her most powerful faculty. That may be the biggest reason this tiny, huge-haired woman barely old enough to order a drink has been so widely hailed. She may not sing yet with the sensual ease of Dianne Reeves or propel a band with her bass playing as incisively as Christian McBride — but she isn’t far behind in either skill set, and the combination, driven with immense, warm charm, was devastating on Sunday.
Surprise opener Saratoga pianist Cole Broderick played a work in progress: Solo renditions of Beatles’ songs, an audacious concept not yet fully crystallized into jazz. Some reconceptualizations seemed genuinely promising; the stride undertow of “Love Me Do” and “Michelle,” for example, and the rhythmic re-imagining of “Come Together.” However, the performances were often of an unsteady or awkward workshop or rehearsing-in-public quality; intriguing and gutsy but unrealized.
Next Music Haven show: Alaskan bluegrass band Bearfoot on Sunday at 7 p.m.