Song of the Week: ‘Formwela 10’ by Esperanza Spalding

One of 13 musical prescriptions on the jazz musician's latest LP, ‘Formwela 10’ is a lush, strange delight.

By Conner Reed October 15, 2021

"You can really do some damage down there in the soul of another," Esperanza Spalding croons toward the top of "Formwela 10," off her latest LP Songwrights Apothecary Lab, without judgment or pain. She's just letting you know.

The Grammy-winning Portland jazz musician dropped Songwrights Apothecary Lab at the end of September, and true to form, it's an unconventional release. Its 13 tracks (all called "Formwelas") are the results of retreats Spalding has organized around the concept of music as wellness. A website features prescriptions for each track—10 should be used to "slow down and remember to make space/time for your elders." 

It opens with just a plucked bass and Spalding's golden voice, zig-zagging through a characteristically complex jazz melody. Then a lush piano and cymbals crash in, and the track blossoms, though it never stays settled for long—in its three-and-a-half minutes, it becomes unmoored, features a brief instrumental-only stretch, and then lands back down on earth. 

The whole time, the song-as-medicine conceit comes through. Even its more severe swerves feel somehow gentle in Spalding's hands. Check out the full track below, and, if you're so inclined, snag a copy of the album here

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