Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe was the title of a 1969 Albert Ayler recording, and more than 50 years later, bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding is taking up the cause. Her inspiration was not Ayler but another legendary saxophonist, Wayne Shorter, with whom she collaborated on the opera Iphigenia, which will be presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this December. Shorter was in ill health at the time and rebounded as the two worked together. However, holistic concerns have been at the root of much of Spalding’s recent music. Her 2019 release, 12 Little Spells, correlated each song to a body part.
It’s not hard to imagine in these times of pandemic, global climate crisis, and a capricious level of economic stratification that an artist would want to put healing music into the world, and consistent with Spalding’s previous efforts, Songwrights Apothecary Lab is forward and didactic. She consulted with neuroscientists and music therapists in creating the 12 songs here, each of which is designed to address specific emotions and stresses.
That’s a lot of weight for an album to bear, and it may be just as (if not more) effective if listeners bring their own agenda to the music, which is sprawling, serene, and gently provocative. Spalding’s voice is sensitively persuasive on the songs with lyrics, and her bass drives the extended instrumentals. It’s easy to imagine it as the soundtrack to a yoga class or even as meditation, but it also works in foreground settings too.