Arts, Music

Virtuoso Esperanza Spalding Expands Her Sound With ‘12 Little Spells’

“City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with bassist, singer and composer Esperanza Spalding about her new album "12 Little Spells," her fascination with the number 12 and her creative inspiration.
“City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with bassist, singer and composer Esperanza Spalding about her new album "12 Little Spells," her fascination with the number 12 and her creative inspiration.
Credit Summer Evans / WABE

Esperanza Spalding won a Grammy for best new artist in 2011. But the virtuoso bassist, singer and composer was by no means “new” to the art form.

She began seriously performing at age 5, and her career has led to the White House —  playing several times for the Obamas. Spalding also performed in Sweden when former President Barack Obama received his Nobel Peace Prize.

Spalding recently released her seventh album, “12 Little Spells,” over the course of 12 days and followed it with a 12-city tour, ending on Dec. 12. She relates her fascination with the number back to — what else? — music.

“In context of the musical scale,” she explains, “with these 12 fixed ingredients — the 12 notes — you can combine them in an almost infinite number of ways and produce really any sonic effect with melody or harmony or rhythm. Within this fixed set of ingredients, the possibilities are really endless.”

Spalding seems to be exploring those possibilities on “12 Little Spells.”

Musically, the album is a move away from the more traditional jazz and singer-songwriter sounds of her previous records, featuring lush orchestrations, electronic elements and song structures that push past the standard pop formulas.

“It’s been hard, in a kind of surprising way, to free myself from the signifier of being a jazz musician,” she says.

One place she has found inspiration is in the writings of early 20th century atonal composer and music theorist Arnold Schoenberg.

“As a philosopher, he’s a guiding light,” she says. “What I get from him mostly is from his commentary on music and on the creative process. He’s really honest about this dance that all composers are engaged in where you want to surprise a listener. We all want to be surprised; that’s part of the joy of life. Yet we don’t want to be that surprised. You want to kind of know what’s coming, but then be surprised and then shown that it’s not out of control.”

Esperanza Spalding’s album “12 Little Spells” is available digitally, and available physically March 30.