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12 Little Spells

by Esperanza Spalding

Every year the Grammies alert me to a few new musical treats, and this time one of those treasures was this mind-bending jazz reverie from Esperanza Spalding. And the thing I find most bewitching about it is the way it smuggles some tremendously avant-garde harmonies past you in a deceptively euphonic way. The clearest example of this for me is where the guitar is oscillating between A major and F major chords (harmonies that are already reasonably distant from each other in harmonic terms, but made more palatable by the sonorous shared A pedal tone) and then the bass line launches off tangentially with a low Ab-Bb-G-Cb-Db riff that shares no notes at all with the guitar’s chord. It’s the kind of gloriously extreme musical tension that you only hear rarely these days, especially within such an opulently gorgeous arrangement texture.

And that’s far from the only delicious example. There’s a similar moment under the Baug chord at 1:50, for instance, and the trombone line is likewise melliflously contrarian at 3:08-3:15. Wagner eat your heart out – I’d take this over Tristan any day of the week!