CD REVIEW: Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells



Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells 
(Concord Records. CD Review by Sebastian Maniura)

In 12 Little Spells Esperanza Spalding explores the realm of magic and healing in her music. The concept for this album grew out of her willingness to shed the label of a "musician" and explore the identity of, in her own words, "what would happen if?" This, combined with an initiation into the alternative medicine of energy healing called Reiki, formed the basis for 12 Little Spells.

A Reiki practitioner will use a light touch to stimulate change and balance in the energy fields both in and around your body. In this vein, each song from the album focuses on a specific part of the body and aims to bring a "tingling... healing sensation" to the listener. This might make the more cynical reader apprehensive. However, this is far from purely being an experiment in the benefits of alternative healing therapy.

The timbral and textural space created by the trio is impressive. With Spalding on vocals, acoustic and electric bass and kalimba, joined by Matt Stevens on guitar, vocals and bass and Justin Tyson on drums, organ, synths and beats, the band creates soundscapes that are grandiose and even orchestral at times on tracks like 12 Little Spells. Whereas on You have to Dance the music is lively and funky, with Esperanza laughing in between the breaks of the song.

The new additions to the album add even more tone to its palette. Lest we Forget, focused on blood, has a smooth, undulating silkiness comprising of synths, guitar lines and bass laid atop a slow, simple drum machine beat. The recurring hummed theme signposts the sections of the song, making the music feel spiritual, hinting at gospel. How To has a powerful extended spoken word poem throughout, the vocal harmonies and bass, guitar and drum beat rising gradually, leading to a sparkling arpeggiated synth line.

One of the keys to this album is its lyrical strength. The fact that each song is focused on a specific part of the body allows Esperanza to explore the subject fully. For instance, on How To Esperanza asks the question "Whose image have we been made in?" The lyrics are also an opportunity for Spalding to play with tone and delivery. For example, in With Others, on the line “You can have my love, as long as I can tell you what to do" the second half is sung through clenched teeth. This lyrical complexity combined with the eclectic nature of the music offered up on the album lends it some real weight.

This is an interesting concept album that bends the mind and body, exploring new avenues of creation without the use of psychoactive substances, Spalding states clearly on her website "I do not use drugs." It is serious and yet light-hearted, magical and musical and deserves to be listened to and reflected upon. There should be something for all kinds of listeners to enjoy or connect with here, whatever their musical and spiritual persuasion.

Twelve tracks of 12 Little Spells were released digitally in October 2018. The physical release on 10 May 2019 has four additional tracks. 

LINK: Video of title track

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