Before she left on her current tour of the U.S., Esperanza Spalding brought a string trio and her regular guitarist Ricardo Vogt to the NPR Music offices for a Tiny Desk Concert. See it above, and also check the story page for more of my words (and the audio-only version).
Regarding the whole "big things in small packages" motif, there's admittedly a bit of rhetorical gambit in there. I do surmise Spalding thinks about this idea, though. Last night in Washington, D.C., she started her closer "Really Very Small" with a little improvised sung/scat monologue. Here I paraphrase: "There once was a little girl / Who was told she was a really big deal / And she started to believe it," she sang. But after a while, that little girl "realized that we are all really very small." You know, not like it was a winking allegory or anything.
If you manage to see her full show, with drums and piano and backing vocalists, you'll notice there's clearly a little theater involved. Some props, some on-stage movement during segues, some costuming, some personnel coming on and off. It's designed to convey the idea of Spalding coming home to her living room with a bottle of wine, a double bass and, OHHAI some super-talented musicians. Regardless of what anyone might think of it — either distracting or totally ballsy, or somewhere in between — I left wishing more jazz artists had the means to be able to pull off something like that if they had the gumption to.
Compared to the staged coziness, we had actually cramped quarters during our Tiny Desk Concert. It was the first time she had performed this music with strings since the recording session; it felt more personal and down-to-earth. Watch it for yourself.
One final note: The string players she has with her on this tour — and for our Tiny Desk Concert — are what one might call Serious. Cellist Jody Redhage has her own chamber ensemble made up of fellow composer/performers; one of them is jazz trombonist Alan Ferber, her husband and frequent collaborator (and recent photo subject). Redhage told me that violist Lois Martin is not only a freelance classical "heavy hitter" in New York, but has recorded with Chris Potter's tentet as well. And violinist Sara Caswell is a jazz player herself; she's busy as a sideman, and her forthcoming album, co-led by vocalist Rachel Caswell (her sister), features (and was produced by) Fred Hersch.
One final-er note: Since I have opened the floodgates in talking about great hair in jazz, I think one must also include drummer Seb Rochford in the conversation. I mean.