Spalding’s emphasis on creating a live show that can be fun for fans unfamiliar with jazz makes the music feel less like eating your broccoli and more like sampling a box of assorted chocolates. To be fair, she’s not the only one capable of pulling this off, but her mix of talent, youth and beauty remind one of the days when jazz was America’s pop music. From her surprise Best New Artist Grammy last year, to her recent Levi’s commercial, to her natural, talkative stage presence, the girl gushes with star power.
In keeping with the album’s theme, the show began with a spotlight on the giant prop of a boom box and the sound of a radio tuning to various stations. The band then slid gracefully into a Thad Jones composition that sounded like “Us.”
Denver’s own Tia Fuller featured on sax in Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” with Spalding singing after Fuller’s solo, “Exactly what I was feeling.” Guitarist Jef Lee Jones spiked the breakup song “Smile Like That” with a snarling solo, while the rest of the band traded spontaneous barbs that perfectly expressed the charged emotions at the end of a relationship.
More pop-sounding songs like “Cinnamon Tree” still blended multiple harmony and horn parts. “Radio Song” brought the crowd to its feet and singing before Spalding returned with her acoustic bass and pianist Leo Genovese for a two-song encore.
Besides singing and playing electric and upright bass, Spalding writes the song arrangements, as well. That she and her band manage to make those songs sound effortless may be the true appeal of her music. It comes to you more satisfying than studied — as if you were singing along to a song on the radio.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at samdeleo.com
Tina Hagerling is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. Check out more of her concert photography.