12 Little Spells (Concord Records)
Released October 19, 2018
Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2020
Esperanza Spalding has announced an audacious new project called “12 Little Spells.” In 12 days from now, beginning October 7th, Esperanza will release one new spell per day on her website and social platforms until all 12 have been released. Then on October 19th, an EP will be released on all digital streaming outlets. The spells come in the form of new music, which was crafted by Spalding at a castle in Italy last month and then recorded in sessions completed just yesterday in Brooklyn. Each spell will be presented with song-specific imagery and video spells (short films that will accompany each release).
‘12 Little Spells’ finds Spalding conjuring in the medium of musical creation, through an exploration of the body, human energy and healing. Working alongside Esperanza on this project are visual artist Carmen Daneshmandi, opera/theater director Elkhanah Pulitzer, wardrobe specialist Diego Montoya and video artist Ethan Samuel Young. Each collaborator is creating key elements of ’12 Little Spells’ without hearing any music, having only the project title and spell names as inspiration.
In the coming days, Esperanza will also reveal details of a series of 12 pop-up shows. Each performance will focus on a single spell and feature an explosion of music and words, color and movement. No two events will be the same. The performances will be recorded for a live concert film that will be released next year. Exclusive limited music and items will be available only at these shows, with a full deluxe package to be released by Concord Records in 2019. ‘12 Little Spells’ arrives just one year after ‘Exposure,’ in which Spalding composed and recorded a new album entirely from scratch in just 77 hours, while livestreaming every minute of the process to the world. In 2016 she released ‘Emily’s D+ Evolution,’ which earned her a Pitchfork Best New Music review, inclusion on several year-end critics lists, and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show, Real Time with Bill Maher and beyond.
Over the past 12 months, I’ve been moving further and further away from a “musician” kind of identity, and further into a… “what would happen if…” identity. there isn’t a page for that yet on iTunes… so while they work on that, let me explain what’s goin’ on here with this new non-category:
First, an idea struck: 12 little spells… I wanted to release one more song-ey album/tour project to tide us over before I disappear into the belly of developing the next full thing*… then, all the sudden, this 12 little spells idea just started taking shape in my imagination all quick-like… and made various parts of my body tingle: hands, legs, solar-plexus, ears, feet, arms… (no I don’t use drugs)… this tingling had a kind of healing sensation, and I wondered: can I harness these 12 little sensation-revelations into sounds, words, imagery, and performance that activates this healing, tingling effect in others? I’m gonna go ahead and assume: yes… (all of us creating away here on this live-show and album assume so… we’re audacious like that) oh, and getting initiated into reiki definitely helped set up this paradigm… of articulating the idea that nourishing energies moving through one person, can be shared with another… (and someone else might have a profound little thing to say about that and the very nature of being a performer… but… we’ll leave it to them…) but, like any responsible magic-maker, I can’t tell you anymore. You’ll have to wait ’til we’re in the sound and space together… and just feel it. (and if you don’t feel a damn thing twinkling in your solar-plexus – or anywhere else- at least here’s some dope ass music)
1. 12 Little Spells (Esperanza Spalding) 04:53
2. To Tide Us over (Esperanza Spalding / Justin Tyson) 04:53
3. Til the Next (Esperanza Spalding / Justin Tyson) 04:17
4. Thang (Esperanza Spalding) 04:35
5. Touch in Mine (Esperanza Spalding / Justin Tyson) 04:53
6. The Longing Deep Down (Esperanza Spalding) 04:35
7. You Have to Dance (Esperanza Spalding) 03:27
8. Now Know (Esperanza Spalding) 04:26
9. All Limbs Are (Esperanza Spalding / Justin Tyson) 03:36
10. Readying to Rise (Esperanza Spalding) 05:07
11. Dancing the Animal (Esperanza Spalding) 05:07
12. With Others (Esperanza Spalding) 05:52
13. Lest We Forget (Esperanza Spalding / Justin Tyson) 05:16
14. How to (Morgan Guerin / Esperanza Spalding) 03:54
15. Move Many (Esperanza Spalding / Matthew Stevens) 02:55
16. Ways Together (Esperanza Spalding) 03:45
Esperanza Spalding: vocals, piano, organ, bass
Matthew Stevens: guitar, electric bass, vocals
Justin Tyson: drums, organ, synthesizer, vocals
Aaron Burnett: saxophone
Burniss Travis: electric bass, vocals, acoustic bass
Rob Schwimmer: synthesizer
Corey King: vocals
Atheel Elmalik, Azza Gallab, Britni Lonesome, Gemma Weekes, Lana Homeri: background vocals (5)
Morgan Guerin: background vocals (13-16)
Yves Dharamraj: cello (1)
Julietta Curenton: flute, piccolo flute (1)
Eric Reed, Laura Weiner: French horn (1)
Richard Harris: tenor trombone, bass trombone (1)
Brandon Ridenour, John Blevins: trumpet (1)
Margaret Dyer Harris: viola (1)
Katie Hyun, Sami Merdinian: violin (1)
Recorded at Atomic Sound, NY
Recorded and Mixed by Fernando Lodeiro
Assistant Engineer: Dakota Bowman
Mastered by Oscar Zambrano
Photography by Carmen Daneshmandi
Producers: Esperanza Spalding, Matthew Stevens, Morgan Guerin, Justin Tyson
In 12 Little Spells Esperanza Spalding explores the realm of magic and healing in her music. The concept for this album grew out of her willingness to shed the label of a “musician” and explore the identity of, in her own words, “what would happen if?” This, combined with an initiation into the alternative medicine of energy healing called Reiki, formed the basis for 12 Little Spells.
A Reiki practitioner will use a light touch to stimulate change and balance in the energy fields both in and around your body. In this vein, each song from the album focuses on a specific part of the body and aims to bring a “tingling… healing sensation” to the listener. This might make the more cynical reader apprehensive. However, this is far from purely being an experiment in the benefits of alternative healing therapy.
The timbral and textural space created by the trio is impressive. With Spalding on vocals, acoustic and electric bass and kalimba, joined by Matt Stevens on guitar, vocals and bass and Justin Tyson on drums, organ, synths and beats, the band creates soundscapes that are grandiose and even orchestral at times on tracks like 12 Little Spells. Whereas on You have to Dance the music is lively and funky, with Esperanza laughing in between the breaks of the song.
The new additions to the album add even more tone to its palette. Lest we Forget, focused on blood, has a smooth, undulating silkiness comprising of synths, guitar lines and bass laid atop a slow, simple drum machine beat. The recurring hummed theme signposts the sections of the song, making the music feel spiritual, hinting at gospel. How To has a powerful extended spoken word poem throughout, the vocal harmonies and bass, guitar and drum beat rising gradually, leading to a sparkling arpeggiated synth line.
One of the keys to this album is its lyrical strength. The fact that each song is focused on a specific part of the body allows Esperanza to explore the subject fully. For instance, on How To Esperanza asks the question “Whose image have we been made in?” The lyrics are also an opportunity for Spalding to play with tone and delivery. For example, in With Others, on the line “You can have my love, as long as I can tell you what to do” the second half is sung through clenched teeth. This lyrical complexity combined with the eclectic nature of the music offered up on the album lends it some real weight.
This is an interesting concept album that bends the mind and body, exploring new avenues of creation without the use of psychoactive substances, Spalding states clearly on her website “I do not use drugs.” It is serious and yet light-hearted, magical and musical and deserves to be listened to and reflected upon. There should be something for all kinds of listeners to enjoy or connect with here, whatever their musical and spiritual persuasion.
Sebastian Maniura (London Jazz News)