Performing Arts: DC JazzFest Review

Grammy Award winner brings her new sound to the Yards in an immersive jazz show.

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Esperanza Spalding at DC JazzFest (Photo by Diba Mohtasham)

June 13th was another hot Saturday for those in D.C., but the real heat came from DC JazzFest at the Yards. The festival is a two-day concert on the grassy park at the edge of the beautiful Anacostia riverfront. The Yards is one of four main stages in the DC area showcasing jazz performances.

After opening act Marshall Keys, Esperanza Spalding hit the stage in a funky, two-piece floral suit and electric blue glasses. The crowd knew to expect something great from four-time Grammy Award winner. However, what they heard and saw was completely unexpected.

Spalding’s latest project and focus of her summer tour is what she calls “Emily’s D+ Evolution”. Some initial technical difficulties brought the performance to a halt. Before restarting, Spalding said to the crowd, “I’m really glad that happened. You know why? Because This is D+ evolution. You may not have a passing grade but even in less than ideal circumstances, we still get to be creative and evolve.”

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Esperanza Spalding at DC JazzFest (Photo by Diba Mohtasham)

She restarted her opening number with even more passion and enthusiasm than the first time. The music was a complex fusion of melodies and harmonies that still infused the fundamental elements of jazz. While the music felt like an exploration of the genre, the audience experienced their own self-exploration in a way in which, as Spalding says, they were “evolving”. The performance as well was unexpected–an immersive show that felt theatrical with the use of props, video, and character. Each performer acted a part on stage, using their bodies to create a story. “We are putting on a play, influenced a lot by Surrealist poets [and the] experimental theatre movement in New York.” she says. “With the Emily Project, I’m just exploring that more. How can we create that other world? Feel what you wanna feel. Move how you wanna move.”

DC JazzFest

DC JazzFest (Photo by Diba Mohtasham)

Esperanza Spalding’s new album comes out this summer, meaning the audience that day got a preview of what music lovers will be listening to this fall.

For more information, visit www.dcjazzfest.org.

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