Acclaimed jazz-bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, who was freshly thrust into the spotlight by her Grammy victory for Best New Artist, visited Bovard on Saturday.
The show started with a dark stage, but Spalding’s silhouette was unmistakable as she walked out to the small setup on the left wing.
She sat silently in a wingback chair, looking as though she was making herself at home, until she eventually walked to the middle of the stage.
The backup string instruments were mostly light and airy, which complemented Spalding’s sweet voice, but the music was layered with drums, piano and largely characterized by the deeper, complex notes of her bass.
The songs ranged from soothing and simple to riveting, to danceable, and although most of the set sounded unique, Spalding occasionally transitioned into a more recognizable contemporary jazz tempo.
When it came to vocals, she seemed much more concerned with using the voice as an instrument itself, focusing on pitches and sounds, as opposed to lyrics.
Partway into the concert, Spalding played “Wild is the Wind,” one of her more recognizable songs where the heavy instrumental focus and occasionally sharp piano notes contrast well with her gentle, seraphic voice.
Spalding appeared to be completely at home on the stage. She performed barefoot, occasionally dancing along to the music. At one point, she hummed into her water glass, as if she and the ensemble were alone.
By today’s conventional expectations for concerts, her approach might be called minimalist, but Spalding was not concerned with putting on a flashy show.
She was entirely focused on the music. There were no overenthusiastic antics.
There wasn’t even any banter between songs, which was refreshing for this kind of performance. Spalding drew in the audience with her distinct presence and organic, quiet passion.
The entire performance contained a captivating “je ne sais quoi” that might have simply come from watching a talented performer so clearly in love with her music.
The concert was accentuated by numerous bass solos, which seemed to come naturally to Spalding as she became enveloped in them.
Keeping with the low-key mood of the performance, the show passed over any grand, bombastic ending.
Spalding returned to the wingback chair, had another sip of her drink and put her jacket back on, before concluding with a final song.
The audience received Spalding enthusiastically, punctuating the performance with smatterings of applause and giving her a standing ovation at the end.
Spalding was a joy to watch and she proved that the uproar over her Grammy win was unwarranted.
She is a unique, talented artist — a welcome breath of fresh air.
If her performance at Bovard was any indication, Spalding clearly has something to offer, not just to the jazz world, but to the entire music world.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Spalding’s album was called Music Chamber Society, the album it titled Chamber Music Society.