“A surprise “Best New Artist” Grammy win made jazz instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding break into mainstream consciousness, but the bassist singer-songwriter has always been ducking expectations. Her albums swing from the string arrangements of 2010’s Chamber Music Society to the contemporary-pop moves of 2012’s Q-Tip-assisted Radio Music Society. She’ll back up R&B explorer Janelle Monáe while also working in bands led by swing-circuit veterans like tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano.
But for all her past genre mobility, her latest album still sounds like a bold next step forward. Emily’s D+Evolution (pronounced “Emily’s D-plus evolution”) fuses potent alt-rock riffs and seductive R&B crooning with transitions coming by way of sly, prog-like interludes. The album’s theatricality is foregrounded by its titular main character, a presence that Spalding has sounded somewhat elusive about in interviews. Still, the character of Emily is clearly a galvanizing one for the bassist-composer. Rolling Stone spoke with Spalding about melding rock influences with traditional jazz practice for this knotty opus.“