Esperanza Spalding’s Grammy win gives me hope

Big congratulations to Esperanza Spalding for winning Best New Artist of the year at the Grammys (even though it upset some Justin Bieber fans — too bad so sad). Interesting that her name means “hope” in Spanish. Could this be a sign of hope for the music industry that has been giving us one uninspired musical act after another? I’ve been following Esperanza’s career since she was a teenager, singing and playing bass with a Portland, Oregon group called Noise for Pretend. I thought back then she was headed for the big time and it looks like I was right.

I am glad Esperanza’s Grammy award is getting her solo work some attention, but I thought I would post a bit of her work with Noise for Pretend, which I fell in love with back in 2002. Check out their album, Happy You Near — full of blissful indie pop laced with jazz and Brazilian influences. I love every song on it.

This one is “Due to Lamplooking” from Noise for Pretend’s Happy You Near:

To be honest, I wasn’t as crazy about the stuff I heard from her first solo album Junjo. I’m a marginal jazz fan at best and not a huge fan of scatting and she did a lot of that. I preferred her Brazilian-influenced indie pop sound. Her more recent material has gotten more and more accessible, however, and apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed. I think she has the potential to be even bigger than Norah Jones, who can be pretty samey and wear thin after a while.

Here’s a great example of the kind of music Esperanza is making today: 

Beautiful music from a beautiful young lady.

It’s interesting the way things interconnect. I discovered Esperanza’s group Noise for Pretend because they were on an album of Bjork cover songs called Read: Interpreting Bjork put out by Hush Records. It was the first “e-album” I ever downloaded on the Internet — all mp3s, no physical product — a novel concept in 2002 (it did come out on CD in 2004). I liked Noise for Pretend’s cover of “Oh So Quiet” and decided to order their split EP with Blanket Music. While I was on the Hush Records website, scoping out their products, I saw an interesting album cover: an old-fashioned sailing ship, with ghosts floating into the sky. I thought, what the hell, I’ll order that too. It turned out to be Castaways and Cutouts by the Decemberists, long before they became the indie rock darlings they are today. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, a rule that applies to albums as well, but in that case it really worked.

I have immense respect for Hush Records and its founder Chad Crouch for helping to kickstart the career of those wonderful artists. Stop by sometime and check out some of their other talent. And you might give Chad’s own group Blanket Music a try. It took some getting used to — the vocals sound off key at first — but eventually you realize he’s doing it on purpose. Kind of comes across like someone relaxing in a hammock somewhere in the tropics, too chilled out or stoned to bother finding the exact notes to the song.


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