Radio Music Society

From time to time, because I like to listen to music intensely, I’d like to share some thoughts on my experiences. So . . .

Radio Music Society is the most recent album release by bassist and singer extraordinaire Esperanza Spalding. Overall, I would characterize it as a jazz/funk album, and it’s a pretty good one. The funk is especially funky and is filled to the brim with excellent rhythmic performing by Esperanza and her excellent rhythm section. It’s tough to pick out a favorite song, but I think that I’ll have to go with the opener, Radio Song, because it ends with an excellently funky vamp that just grooves real, real hard. I also really enjoyed Crowned & Kissed, mostly because, like everyone to some degree, I’m a sucker for a good sentimental song. Black Gold is also notable as a song exuding cultural pride.

In particular, Esperanza has a special voice. It’s a real joy just to listen to her sing. Her voice sounds to me like the best combination of great musical craft and a delicate Picasso pencil drawing that must be protected inside an acid and atmosphere-controlled glass display, lest the slightest environmental perturbation degrade it.

That said, there is one big detriment to this album that I, as a trombone player, don’t dig. The horn editing sounds awful, as if the trumpet/trombone/saxophone is way too over-processed. If this were truly the sound that they were going for, a MIDI emulation would have served the engineering team just as well. But I don’t think that this is the case, because some of the songs should have what, by what the liner notes suggest, should be a big band horn sound. And Esperanza is a well-schooled jazz musician who surely knows what good horns sound like. I can only conclude that the engineer didn’t know how to capture horns except as the ‘pop-music’ blandenized version that works for simple, rhythmic backgrounds. It works in Black Gold, but the horns in Hold On Me sound horrible. The way they sound, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they were auto-tuned, and if they are, that’s an insult to the studio musicians who actually know pretty well how to shape notes and phrases to enhance the music.

So, overall, I’d give this album a rating of 6/10. There’s a lot of great music in it, but it needs a different recording and engineering approach to really let it shine.

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