Audio + Video: Esperanza Spalding Flows Into Emily's 'Good Lava'


"See this pretty girl, watch this pretty girl flow..."

With a new year, change often rides shotgun, and change, while sometimes difficult to accept, can often turn out to be a good thing. Upon hearing the news that Esperanza Spalding was going to slip into an bespectacled, dreds-rocking alter-ego for her follow-up project to 2012's vastly underrated Radio Music Society, I admit to being a bit skeptical. Juggling an alter-ego can be a tricky venture for an artist no matter what stage of their career, and at times the choice can borderline on being a gimmick in itself. As for Spalding, she seemed to have already carved a nice niche as a well-respected modern jazz artiste --- crafting an alter-persona seemed like the last thing she should be doing --- but I forget that art is an ever-evolving affair, one that embraces change, takes all those scary but fun detours, and relishes in its freedom to create.

The point of Spalding letting her alter "Emily" come out to play is just that, it's a chance for the multi-talented jazz bassist to explore new themes and ideas, and to re-discover herself as an artist. Unlike utilizing her alter to satirize the debris of American pop culture like Marina and the Diamonds' Electra Heart, or experiment with gender bending like Prince and Lady Gaga's alters, the purpose of Emily hasn't exactly materialized to Spalding, as she is still in the process of learning who and what Emily (which happens to be Spalding's middle name) is really all about. Describing to NPR in a recent interview:

I can start by saying that my personal relationship to Emily is that this is a spirit, or a being, or an aspect who I met, or became aware of. I recognize that my job — and it's ongoing — is to be her arms and ears and voice and body. To say what she came to say, you know?

That's my relationship with Emily — I see her and am informed by her, and recognize her spirit and her perspective. I get to be the researcher, the implementer and executor of that vision. It feels like I'm a side-person to her — I'm her artistic development team.

Through that process, I'm getting to know her more. I ask to Emily, 'So, what did you come here to say? What do you want to do? What do you want to do that I didn't do? Who are you and why are you here?' It was such a distinct knock at the door.

For her upcoming album, Emily's D+Evolution (out March 4th), Spalding is allowing Emily to become more and more realized, letting her flow in unexpected, freewheeling ways. Sort of like lava...or "Good Lava" that is. With apt title, "Good Lava" is Spalding introducing Emily in a splashier fashion, this in contrast to Emily's first emerges on the live stage and via Jimmy Kimmel Live! last year. Vivid is the introduction to Emily's psychedelic prog-rock, as "Good Lava" is far and away from the bossa nova and chamber music stylings of Spalding as it has challenging chord changes and crunchy ping-pong prose that flows into the hot rock styles of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. A truly acquired taste it is, as is its Ondrej Rudavsky-directed visual accompaniment which pulls from a grab bag of Steampunk and Bond opening sequence elements.


Emily has certainly brought Spalding into unorthodox territory, something that she's definitely not complaining about. As she told Lenny Letter:
I think there's a point where you make a decision [even] if you're not sure how it's going to go. You're not sure if people are going to laugh at you or if this is going to be dumb, or if it's going to be great, or once you get it if you'd really want it. I think there's a point where you have to say "Fuck it. I want to do this. I have to do this. It's the truth right now." If you want to be yourself, or if you want to feel like your whole self, you have to do it.
So let's let this pretty girl flow...and flow into something daring and interesting for the new year!

+ Photo by Holly Andres
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