Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Esperanza SpaldingHeads Up International HUI-32454-01|
Format: LP

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****


When Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, Justin Bieber’s fans became upset and edited her Wikipedia page for a little mischief. They should probably consider themselves lucky their boy lost. The Grammy Awards have a mixed track record when it comes to choosing musicians who will enjoy a long, prosperous career. Colin Hay of Men at Work (1983’s winner) called the award the "Best New Artist / Kiss of Death." Spalding will probably be around for a long time, but as a jazz musician whose main instrument is the bass, she’s an unlikely choice for mainstream stardom.

On the plus side, Spalding has a distinctive, strong voice, and her songwriting instincts are good. Her debut, Esperanza, showed an occasional Stevie Wonder influence, which suggests she could write sophisticated popular music, as Wonder has. But Spalding has a strong experimental streak that may further limit her commercial prospects in a pop music world that values predictability.

That’s good news for music lovers. For her third release, her second for Concord Records subsidiary Heads Up, Spalding decided to use a three-piece string section as the basis for her arrangements. On many of the tracks, the strings enrich the sound of her brilliant and versatile group, a jazz trio augmented by a percussionist. Chamber Music Society shows some classical music influence, but it’s decidedly jazz, and it continues to show the strong bossa nova influence that made Spalding’s first disc so enjoyable.

Spalding arranged the tracks with Gil Goldstein, and they employ the string trio in a variety of ways. "Little Fly," which takes a William Blake poem for its lyric, uses the strings as its foundation, but Spalding’s bass locates it squarely in jazz. "Really Very Small" integrates the trio into the percussive drive of the tune, while on "Wild Is the Wind" the strings add cinematic drama. The arrangements are intelligent and subtle, and the string players know how to respond to the spontaneity of the jazz group’s playing.

Spalding sings duo with the great Brazilian songwriter and singer Milton Nascimento on "Apple Blossom." Her restrained vocal accompaniment is perhaps a response to his understated approach, and I wish she would follow that model more often. If she has a fault, it’s that she seems to have the desire, common among young singers, to fully display her abilities. "Wild Is the Wind" is a dramatic tune, but a comparison with Nina Simone’s version shows how with age and experience a singer will use space and reserve to great effect.

The vinyl version of Chamber Music Society is pressed on two quiet 180-gram LPs. The music is presented in a deep soundstage, with Spalding’s voice well out in front and beautifully focused. The distinct character of each of the string instruments is easy to hear, and the piano and drums sustain naturally. Spalding’s bass sounds full and deep, with a visceral punch when she plucks the strings, and Quintino Cinalli’s percussion, especially on "Chacarera" is rendered vividly. I hope the care taken in this release is an indication that Concord will continue to press vinyl. The LP set includes two bonus tracks, a "making of" and a track from Spalding’s upcoming release, Radio Music Society.

. . . Joseph Taylor