Esperanza Spalding pursues music therapy with Songwrights Apothecary Lab

Four-time Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding has taken a scientific approach to her newest release, Songwrights Apothecary Lab.

For this project, the bassist and composer wanted to make her music a visceral healing experience for the listener — enlisting the help of not only fellow musicians, but a team of researchers, neuroscientists and music therapists, too.

Every song on the album is created with a specific human condition in mind, studying how the body responds to experiences of aging, social anxiety and stress, and counteracting those responses with each of the 12 new musical compositions.


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The Songwrights Apothecary Lab itself is an ongoing project led by Spalding that will continue to bring artists and experts together to explore how musicians can apply the principles and findings of music therapy to their art.

“Half songwriting workshop and half guided-research practice, the Songwrights’ Apothecary Lab seeks to develop a structure for the collaborative development of new compositions designed to offer enhanced salutary benefit to listeners,” the website reads.

The songs (or formwelas) to come from these lab sessions were conceived in Wasco County, Oregon, and Portland. Spalding recorded the first six compositions in collaboration with Wayne Shorter, Phoelix, Raphael Saadiq, Justin Tyson, Ganavya Doraiswamy and Corey King for the first six songs. The second half of the album was recorded with drummer Francisco Mela, pianist Leo Genovese, guitarist Matthew Stevens, and saxophonist Aaron Burnett over the course of 10 days in June in New York. Theses sessions were also filmed for accompanying visuals.

Each night, the Songwrights Apothecary Lab extended invitations to the public, where they could listen to each song and speak with Spalding and her team of researchers about the intentions, methods and effects of each composition.

On Songwrights Apothecary Lab, Spalding takes a literal and methodical approach to the John Coltrane quote: “If one of my friends is ill, I’d like to play a certain song and he will be cured.”

You can watch the visual accompaniments and learn more about the project at songwrightsapothecarylab.com.

Here’s the track listing:

  1. Formwela 1
  2. Formwela 2 (Feat. Ganavya Doraiswamy)
  3. Formwela 3
  4. Formwela 4 (Feat. Corey King)
  5. Formwela 5 (Feat. Corey King)
  6. Formwela 6 (Feat. Corey King)
  7. Formwela 7
  8. Formwela 8
  9. Formwela 9
  10. Formwela 10
  11. Formwela 11
  12. Formwela 13

Songwrights Apothecary Lab was released Sept. 24 via Concord.