New release (Concord)
Credit Esperanza Spalding for making her first crossover album after she’s already become a full-fledged crossover success. But this is nothing as simple as a jazz artist crossing into pop. Rather, it reclaims an idea that Stevie Wonder floated back in the days of “Sir Duke”: the greatest American pop music is necessarily rooted in jazz. Which means that plenty of artists who’ve straddled those boundaries are recalled here, from Wonder to Chaka Khan to Lauryn Hill to Steely Dan (whose influence is all over “Black Gold”). Her recent Grammy win proved Spalding has the kind of vocal charisma that sells records, and she makes the most of that too: The opening “Radio Song” sports some gorgeous scatting and a melody that never resolves in any predictable way, yet it’s full of pop appeal. The disc has almost nothing to do with what’s really on the radio these days, but it’s all about the kind of radio she imagines. This is sophisticated music that succeeds on a warm and sensual level. You can feel it all over.
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