Esperanza Spalding is an unlikely figure in the 21st century, a vocalist and bass player who rose to national prominence by singing and performing jazz music. Through four albums, multiple performances at the White House as the guest of President Barack Obama, a Best New Artist win at the Grammys (making her the first jazz artist to ever triumph in that category), and glamorous trips down the red carpet that have made her something of a style star, she has consistently released music that recalls jazz history—especially ’70s fusion—while also being smartly, subtlely contemporary in ambiance and inspiration.
But now, the 31-year-old is throwing a curveball with the conceptual Emily’s D+Evolution, in which she fully channels Emily, a playful persona who has an interest in physics and staging makeshift plays. While the themes of the album aren’t entirely clear even to her, Spalding thinks of the record as an attempt to get back to a childlike curiosity and freedom in her practice—her version of Picasso’s famous declaration that, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” “Emily knocked on the door of me, and I opened it and said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’” Spalding says of her alter ego. “And she said, ‘I want to move and I want to be loud.’”