The first time Esperanza Spalding played at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, she was a young jazz bassist and singer who was steadily building a following.
Since then, she's played at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Concert and scored an upset Grammy win for Best New Artist, beating out such high-profile contenders as Justin Bieber and Mumford & Sons. But when Spalding returns to Segerstrom this weekend, she won't return as a headlining pop star.
Rather, she'll come back as S.
That's the final letter of ACS, the jazz trio that consists of Spalding, pianist Geri Allen and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. And it won't be the only non-superstar move onstage at Segerstrom this weekend: The show, the latest stop on ACS's international tour, will feature only one original composition — an Allen tune — and devote the rest of the time to music by Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist who turned 80 this year, along with jazz standards.
Or maybe that distinction isn't necessary. "I think, by now, Wayne's songs are considered standards," Spalding said by phone from New York. "So we're doing standards."
Modesty and celebrity may be two incompatible concepts, but the recent projects of Spalding, Allen and Carrington come close. All three women recently played on "The Mosaic Project," an album overseen by Carrington that brings together an all-star lineup of female jazz artists. And ACS has opened for Shorter, a collaborator with each member in the past, several times on his 80th birthday tour.
So when the trio takes the stage Friday and Saturday at the Samueli Theater, the focus will be squarely on teamwork. Even the Segerstrom Center's press kit for the engagement cites the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum — which translates to "everything that comes in threes is perfect."
"The three of us together are developing our own sound," Carrington said. "I think we each have a strong sound individually, so coming together, we're developing a cohesive unit."
So far, that unit has garnered at least some raves. When ACS played the Portland Jazz Festival in February, the Oregonian called the show "a nearly two-hour act of hypnosis" and described the band's sound as "Carrington laying down a foundation for Spalding to dance on while Allen's flourishes sparkled like the stars."
Spalding, still shy of her 30th birthday, is the youngster of the trio; Allen's and Carrington's recording careers date back to the 1980s. The women's collaboration began in 2007 at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel, where they shared the stage with saxophonist Tineke Postma. That gig inspired Carrington to create "The Mosaic Project," which features the ACS members along with Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater and others.
When Sarah McLachlan organized the all-women rock festival Lilith Fair in the 1990s, she lamented the lack of exposure for many female musicians. Carrington has had similar perceptions of the jazz community, but politics weren't foremost on her mind when she launched her endeavor.
Rather, she had gotten suggestions over the years to create an all-women ensemble. After brushing off the idea at first, she finally came around to the idea.
"When I first started playing, there weren't so many [women artists]," she said. "So I just said, 'You know, let me take a moment and celebrate all these great women I've been playing with.' And it's so funny and ironic that that's the project that seemed to do best for me."
If You Go
What: ACS: Allen, Carrington, Spalding
Where: Samueli Theater, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cost: Tickets start at $59
Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org