Formwela 2 (feat. Ganavya)
Formwela 5 (feat. Corey King)
Formwela 6 (feat. Corey King)
Equal parts vocalist, bassist, and “songwright” (her preferred term), Esperanza Spalding continually raises the bar with wildly imaginative, process-oriented albums like SONGWRIGHTS APOTHECARY LAB. The successor to 12 Little Spells (and the hard-to-find Exposure), S.A.L. reflects Spalding’s deep interest in music therapy with 12 songs, or “formwelas,” conceived to address specific types of emotional disquiet. (Each is explained on the album’s dedicated website, which also includes detailed accounts of the songs’ “ingredients” or musical building blocks.) The formwelas come in three distinct batches: the first three completed in Wasco County, Oregon, with various collaborators including multi-instrumentalist Phoelix and coproducer Raphael Saadiq; the next three disarmingly intimate tracks in her hometown of Portland, with vocalist and cowriter Corey King; and the remaining six in downtown Manhattan with band members Leo Genovese (piano/keyboards), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Aaron Burnett (tenor sax), and Francisco Mela (drums), plus special guests. (“Formwela 12” is a vinyl-only bonus track.)
Spalding’s expressive range is vast, from the most lyrical and infectious melodies to the rawest dissonance and rhythmic fragmentation—at times in the same piece, such as “Formwela 9,” cowritten (“formwelated”) with Genovese. Stevens and Genovese share credit for “Formwela 11,” its twisting acoustic guitar and high-register vocal unisons calling to mind Hermeto Pascoal. The great Wayne Shorter sends “Formwela 3” into the heavens with his inimitable saxophone work (S.A.L. came out less than two months before the premiere of Iphigenia, the opera cowritten by Shorter and Spalding).