STUDIO albums do a fair job of showing an audience what it can expect from a live performance. But where Esperanza Spalding is concerned, her Radio Music Society release last year was only a hint of what she is capable of.
If anything, that album seemed to suggest that the multi-talented 28-year-old was selling out. Lots of the versatile voice, but nary a bass solo and little improvisation.
Her Mosaic Music Festival performance on Wednesday night put paid to any such doubts, as she had the audience in the Esplanade Concert Hall mesmerised at the sheer force of her talent.
Spalding had hinted in a January interview that her live approach was to lengthen her songs and give them space to breathe, but that didn't reflect the extent to which her songs are transformed in her unique brand of on-stage alchemy.
What you get when you double the length of each song is space. Space for quirky introductions - spoken, sung, and a mixture of both. Space for solos, and that is what was missing most from the Radio Music Society studio album.
Spalding's a phenomenal bassist. But while a few of her solos were captured on 2010's Chamber Music Society, hardly any made it into Radio Music Society. In contrast, she took solos on every song on Wednesday - sometimes in addition to extended instrumental intros. Her solo on the seventh song of the night, Vague Suspicions, was a particularly impressive spiral of intertwining motifs and lyrical lines.
The crowning showcase of her bass chops was the second - and final - encore of the night, Precious, which she sung solo, accompanying herself on the double bass. It's unusual for that bulky instrument to serve as a song's sole backbone but she nailed it with apparent ease.
While Spalding's instrumental prowess is impressive on its own, what makes her an exceptional artist is her ability to combine that with her versatile voice and engaging stage presence. That triple threat is what helped her become the first and only jazz artist to win a Grammy for Best New Artist two years ago.
And she didn't just sing on Wednesday. Every song was preceded by charmingly eccentric introductions, with Spalding channelling the spirit of each song and staying firmly in character.
The only time that Spalding's charisma failed her was when she tried to get the audience to get up and dance, almost an hour into the gig. "You know, those seats are just a suggestion," she cooed. "I don't want to be the only one standing, so I might just sit down too," she tried again. The audience buzzed in response but not one backside left the seats. Nice try, but this is Singapore.
It wasn't till Spalding left the stage pre-encore at 9.22 pm that the crowd finally decided to get up and holler for its money's worth.
Kudos to Spalding's 12-man band, which included a seven-man horn section as well as a backing singer, guitarist, pianist and drummer, for helping her flesh out the Radio Music Society experience. The night's programme leaned heavily on that album, with very brief excursions into older material.
Hopefully, the next time she's back, Spalding will dip more deeply into her excellent back catalogue.