Ethereal Esperanza takes Center for the Arts stage

Grammy-winning virtuoso performs at UB's CFA

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Jazz isn’t a music genre that is typically abundant on college campuses. But Esperanza Spalding changed that when she performed at the Center for the Arts Thursday.

Spalding strode on stage escorted by thunderous applause from the audience. She walked toward her double bass and microphone center stage, her exquisite afro bouncing each step of the way.

The singer-songwriter kicked off her show with a cover of Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw it Away.” Spalding sang fiercely, wowing the audience with her brilliant bass solo.

After her energetic opening, her drummer Lyndon Rochelle and pianist Leonardo Genovese joined Spalding on stage.

The 28-year-old, quadruple Grammy award-winning artist quickly settled into the venue and displayed her quirky and sarcastic personality while performing.

As she tuned her bass, she humorously described her journey in the music industry and began playing “Humpty Dumpty” from her 2006 debut album, Junjo, as a joke.

Suddenly she stopped and there was a brief pause. A loud cheer came from one of the audience members. Without missing a beat Spalding quipped, “Oh you bought it, you were one of the two people [who did].”

The crowd howled with laughter.

Abner Bogan, a senior mechanical engineering student and jazz musician, was inspired by the concert.

He doesn’t attend many jazz concerts, but said, “after seeing Esperanza perform, I could really get into it.”

One of the evening’s more memorable moments came as Spalding began her up-tempo song, “She Got to You.”

Spalding led the show with her bass, transcendent scat singing and incredible high notes. The band followed her cue. They complemented her vocals and bass, balancing the songs with cadence and essence.

There was a moment when Rochelle was playing so vigorously to keep up with Spalding that a drumstick flew out of his hand. Amazingly, he hastily pulled a spare out of his drum kit and kept playing.

As the soulful, groovy jam session went on, the audience members bumped their heads to the beat and watched in awe of Spalding’s talent and sublime stage presence.

Don Garrett, a Buffalo native, was one of the awestruck audience members at the show.

Garrett said he enjoyed every part of the show and his favorite song was “when she sang about the little things in the world.”

Spalding dedicated her passionate performance to “people who do kind things for others that can make a difference, even if their generosity is not extravagant.”

The singer also showcased her ability to sing in Spanish. She recounted how Genovese, the pianist, took her to Argentina, where she was exposed to new music.

Genovese penned a song to honor a Liliana, a musician he and Spalding admired.

The song started when the drums slowly dissipated and Rochelle left the stage. Genovese continued on the piano and Spalding left her bass for the first time to grab the microphone and sing, “Chacarera por Liliana.”

As Rochelle returned to reunite the trio, Spalding pulled out her electric bass, to play one of her popular songs “Black Gold” from her most recent album, Radio Music Society.

The singer asked the crowd to be a choir and sing from the gut, “You are black gold, black gold / You are black gold,” and was overjoyed when the audience harmonized as a unit.

Spalding closed the show with a funky rendition of her song, “I Know You Know.” The trio walked off stage to a standing ovation.

As some people got ready to leave and others were still clapping and standing in their seats, Rochelle walked back on the stage to his drum kit. Genovese followed, returning to the piano and Spalding to her bass.

She called for the crowd to sing as the choir one last time, instructing them to sing “la la la la” as she broke into “Radio Song.” The song slowly ended to Spalding’s ethereal vocals. She cued the audience to stop the chorus and took a final bow.

Andrew Mason was part of the crowd that night. He said participating, as one of the many voices in Spalding’s makeshift choir, was amazing.

“It was great at the end when everyone stopped at the same time,” Mason said. This unity gave the concert something substantive – a togetherness that created a special atmosphere for the intimate venue.

Spalding is currently on her two week “Thank You October” tour celebrating her birthday. Her last stop was Oct. 11 at the Playhouse Square in Cleveland.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com