High Society 

Esperanza Spalding tunes up her classy jazz

Even though she didn't land the big Top 5 debut that so many people were anticipating (damn you, Hunger Games soundtrack), Esperanza Spalding's No. 10 bow on the album charts a few weeks ago is still a major achievement for a jazz artist whose 2008 album didn't even crack the Top 130. Her 2011 Best New Artist Grammy undoubtedly helped the new album, Radio Music Society, which did reach No. 1 on the jazz charts. It was also a huge score for Spalding's record company, Cleveland-based Heads Up International.

Spalding, who released a pair of albums before 2010's Chamber Music Society ended up with all that Grammy attention, found herself facing an unfamiliar situation as she was getting ready to record her fourth LP. But even though more than just jazz fans awaited the new record, she wasn't stressing.

"All I can do is what I hear, feel, or dream, so that's what I do," she says. "If the record does well, then maybe the label next time says, 'We believe in you — what do you want to do this time?' I really see it as, not like an insurance policy, but it sort of seals in the next couple of years."

Spalding comes to town this week as part of the 33rd annual Tri-C JazzFest, which takes place through April 29 at various venues throughout town. Aretha Franklin, David Sanborn, and Diana Krall are among the performers.

It's been a crazy, busy year since the 27-year-old Portland, Oregon singer, songwriter, and bassist snatched one of Grammy's most coveted awards from competition that included Drake, Mumford & Sons, and most famously, Justin Bieber, whose fans took the loss as well as you'd expect ("GO DIE IN A HOLE," someone advised Spalding — in all caps, of course — on Twitter). In addition to several collaborations with jazz artists, Spalding sang "What a Wonderful World" during the Oscars' annual montage of dead people this year.

In a way, Radio Music Society is both a sequel and companion piece to Spalding's breakthrough album. But it's also about breaking down expectations with a more adventurous and sprawling set of songs. Here, hip-hop, Latin pop, and R&B grooves are along for the ride. "When I conceived Chamber Music Society, I conceived Radio Music Society at the same time," she says. "I had all of this music that I wanted to share, and it didn't really fit on one album."

Now that people are listening — or at least more are listening than they were 16 months ago — Spalding's next move is to get her music out to even more people. It's not an easy sell, she knows — especially when audiences these days are more into robotic pop than sophisticated jazz. But she's hopeful all the same. "It's like making a piece for an exhibition you know is going to happen," she says. "You realize that wow, the public might really see this. It just adds an extra element of excitement."

SWEET NEWS: One of our favorite bands, Canton's Big Sweet, will be heading to Illinois in early May to record a session with the influential online indie-rock station Daytrotter Studios. No details yet when their set will be broadcast, but you'll probably hear "Somber Sighs," a new cut from Big Sweet's third album, which they are now recording.

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