The nationwide tour highlighting her latest album arrives Saturday at Washington's newly restored historic Howard Theatre, the nation's first large music venue for blacks. Built in 1910, it predates the Apollo Theatre by two decades. The Beaux-Arts style, developed in Paris during the 19th century, is an ideal backdrop for Spalding's bedazzling creativity.
" 'Radio Music Society' is a sort of dialog about the diversity of radio," she said. "Particularly with jazz music, since there's so much a question of accessibility, it's not the matter of the content of the music, it's a matter of how people can access it. That's why the concept of 'Radio Music Society' came to be. When people get a chance to hear it, it can become really well-loved."
|Where: Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW|
|When: 8 p.m. Saturday|
|Info: Sold out at press time; 202-803-2899; thehowardtheatre.com|
Spalding wrote most of the compositions in this album as separate entities, uniting them all under one umbrella only after considering their relationships with the concept. Like the opener, "Radio Song," three songs have addictive beats and melodies to appeal instantly to anyone switching on a car radio. "Cinnamon Tree" is a spicy confirmation of friendship, and "City of Roses" jumps with joy as she expresses what she loves about her hometown of Portland, Ore., and the thriving musical traditions it spawned. The syncopated, overlapping voices of "Black Gold" reflect Spalding's pride in her African-American heritage and her wish to share that pride with today's young black boys.
The singers and musicians she chose to join her on this journey are the top of their craft. Although some names may be unfamiliar to audiences, they share the expertise that only comes from years of study and experience. Among the large group are Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, Leo Genovese on piano and keyboards, Jeff Galindo on trombone, Darren Barrett on trumpet and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.
"I really want people to check out who these people are and what they do," Spalding said. "I don't think of it as a big album crammed with guests, but with people I love to play with. My associates are pillars of the jazz community, so I would like their names to be remembered because I think they're crucial. There's no expiration date on a phenomenal musician. These are artists right now, and what they're doing is fresh, relevant, alive and vibrant."
Before her career took off, Spalding taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston from 2005 to 2008. Like all consummate musicians, she continues studying her craft to expand her mind and put together musical tools in new ways to facilitate improvisation. That is never more apparent than when she gets on the bandstand every night and seizes the opportunity to discover even more improvisational capabilities.
"Radio Music Society" grew from her penchant for improvisation. The songs that evolved under diverse circumstances come with a DVD that allows the listener to absorb each song by itself or follow it on one of 12 films. Photographed at key locations throughout the world, they tell stories with special meaning for her. "Endangered Species" from Wayne Shorter's album "Atlantis" addresses ecology and conservation. Spalding's human interest concerns prevail in "The Land of the Free," about a man falsely accused of murder until the Innocence Project proved him innocent. "Vague Suspicions" deals with indiscriminate wartime killings.
"In the script, I wrote a lot of visual things or emotions that were directly related to the music," she said. " 'Vague Suspicions' started as a song I just wrote not thinking it would be a part of this record. But while we were in the studio, I whipped it up and realized I really did want to put it in the album. My visually overactive imagination led me to think of those moments when we may see a news headline and start wondering, 'What if that was my brother, or sister, or it happened to my house at night?' I imagined myself reading the headlines sitting on a pristine beach while somewhere in the world someone is running for his life. Then you realize that actually is someone's reality. That's where the script for that song came from."