Esperanza Spalding doesn’t do the expected, unless one expects her to always do different. Emily’s D+Evolution, her 2016 release, was one of my favourite albums of that year: 12 Little Spells lacks that album’s consistency, but shares its originality. At its best, this is a spine-tinglingly exciting set that draws on jazz, soul, gospel and the golden age of the musical.
12 Little Spells consists of 16 tracks, each one relating to a part of the body – the title song relates to the spine, Thang to the hips, You Have To Dance to the feet, and so on. Spalding had a hand in composing all of the tracks, sometimes sharing credits with one of her fellow musicians.
12 Little Spells opens up like a Broadway musical’s overture, fluttering flute melodies and all; To Tide Us Over (co-written by Justin Tyson) begins as a voice/guitar duet then morphs into a hip-hop ballad; ’Til The Next Full follows, a gentle ballad with echoes of Laura Nyro (it’s probably just me, but I seem to hear Nyro in the work of more than one contemporary jazz vocalist these days); Thang has a gospel feel, from Spalding’s voice and Tyson’s organ playing.
Ever-inventive, moving from joyous to melancholy, drawing from many musical styles, sometimes delivering irresistible grooves, occasionally overwhelming and featuring some of the most mysterious lyrics (and sleeve notes) I’ve heard and seen in a while. That’s 12 Little Spells.
12 Little Spells; To Tide Us Over; ’Til The Next Full; Thang; Touch In Mine; The Longing Deep Down; You Have To Dance; Now Know; All Limbs Are; Readying To Rise; Dancing The Animal; With Others; Lest We Forget; How To; Move Many; Ways Together (71.00)
Spalding (v, p, org, elb, orchestral bass drum); Matthew Stevens (g, elb); Justin Tyson (d, org, v, syn, beats, programming); Burniss Travis (elb, b, v) and others. Date and place of recording unknown but probably USA, c. 2019.
Concord Records 00888072082106