REVIEW: Kandace Springs at Union Chapel (2016 EFG LJF)

Kandace Springs at Union Chapel

Kandace Springs
(Union Chapel. 14th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Leah Williams)

Well here’s a lady in serious demand. I first saw Kandace Springs perform as the support act for London-based jazz-funk band Lola’s Day Off at Pizza Express Jazz Club in the early summer. What a difference a few months makes. There was a recent appearance on Jools Holland - the TV debut that has catapulted many a career in the past - and she not only featured alongside the likes of Lizz Wright and Allan Harris as part of the line-up for this year’s opening Jazz Voice gala but also had to add last night’s gig to her Jazz Fest appearances after her first show (at Rich Mix on Saturday 12th) sold out in record time.

What is it about Nashville-based Kandace that makes her so appealing? Well, before I saw her perform last night I would have simply ventured that it’s the fact that she is young, beautiful, and, of course, seriously talented. And you can add to this the fact that she released her debut album Soul Eyes on fame-making record label Blue Note in July this year, and is a young artist channelling, promoting and pushing forward the music of many classic jazz and soul legends. It is, of course, all of the above things, but what I hadn’t yet understood was her utterly contagious charisma and lust for all things music that are what really make her such a force to be reckoned with.

She arrived on stage dressed in a youthful, casually chic way accessorised with her instantly recognisable big hair and even bigger smile. Throughout the evening’s performance, not once did that smile fully fall from her face (even, perhaps to the slight detriment of the song’s mood, during her performance of Ellington’s Solitude) and she displayed a sense of humour and lightness that made her all the more likeable. Her obvious enjoyment of not just being on stage - with band-mates Jesse Bielenberg on double bass, Dillon Treacy on drums, and Jesse Harris on guitar - and performing to us, but of all the music she played, be it her own compositions or one of the many covers, radiated in a way that no one was impervious to.

The other element that became rapidly clear was just how incredibly talented a pianist she is. Her deep understanding of jazz, blues and soul was fully on display with her virtuosic self-accompaniment - and she even threw in a rendition of the Oscar Peterson classic Chicago Blues for good measure! It makes sense considering she told us that she wasn’t interested in singing to begin with, just concentrating on playing the piano originally, until the game-changing moment she first heard Norah Jones’ hit version of The Nearness of You, which she then performed beautifully for us.

Continuing on with this link, Kandace introduced singer/songwriter Jesse Harris who wrote perhaps Norah Jones’ best-known number Don’t Know Why and had also written a couple of the songs on her own debut album. It was a nice touch having him up on stage as he joined the band on guitar and played along with the songs he’d written for Kandace. The link wasn’t quite as clear for the fact that he also played and sang a couple of his own songs. Whilst he’s undoubtedly a very talented guy, his sound and style were too different from that of Kandace and somewhat disturbed the flow of the gig.

She sang a variety of songs from her album, some written by the likes of Jesse Harris and other well-known writers, and some her own compositions. It was these tracks that really held that magical edge, presumably for being more true representations of her own inner musical style and passion. The title track Soul Eyes is slow and soulful, almost minimalistic, but incredibly rousing, and another standout moment had to be the performance of Too Good to Last, which features Grammy-winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard on the album recording but which was sang with simple beauty on the piano tonight.

Ending the night with a couple of big numbers, firstly Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and finally the Etta James classic At Last as an encore, left the audience and evening on a satisfying note. Although, it might be an injustice to her own songs not to realise that one of them would hold perhaps even more weight as the final sounds of what was overall a really great gig - and a great start to what promises to be a wonderfully long and successful career.

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