REVIEW: Kandace Springs at Queen Elizabeth Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Kandace Springs at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Kandace Springs
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 17 November, 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

Not having seen Kandace Springs before, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I did know it had to be something pretty special. After all, how many jazz musicians still in their 20s, with only two albums to their name, are handed a Saturday night slot in a big London auditorium at a major jazz festival? But as a singer, pianist and songwriter, Ms Springs is unusually talented, and she was recognized early on by Blue Note’s Don Was as the real deal.

The post-millennial influences one might predict in someone of her age are – if not absent – at least somewhere in the background. Hip-hop, house, gangsta rap, breakbeat, and never mind grime or drill… she doesn’t seem very interested. Her heroine is Nina Simone, and she loves classical music: tonight she plays snatches of the Moonlight Sonata, bits of Chopin and Debussy, even the Minute Waltz (no sign of Nicholas Parsons though). There was also a big soul element to the set, starting with a version of the Stylistics’ People Make The World Go Round, and further on War’s The World Is A Ghetto. Sometimes the material was pure pop, like her own song Breakdown. But most of all, she played ballads, of which more later.

She switched comfortably between concert grand and Rhodes, the stage lighting filtering through her enormous cloud of hair. Bass-player Chris Gaskell and drummer Connor Parks were her accompanists, and here we come to the only downside of an otherwise wonderful evening: at first I thought Parks was being too splashy with the cymbals, but eventually I realized that the kit was sound-mixed that way, and the drums were just too ‘live’. The bass was likewise indistinct – boomy and rumbly and not really cutting through. Although the mix seemed to improve as the evening went on, during the early numbers Ms Springs’s piano was rather lost in the fog.

No matter. She has a stunningly good voice – very pure and controlled, soaring and dipping with no apparent effort. It was this extraordinary vocal facility that made her command of the ballads so effective, and there were a lot of them: Mal Waldron’s gorgeous Soul Eyes – title track of her eponymous debut album – was the third tune she played, and later came The Nearness of You, an acknowledgement of the influence of Nora Jones. And there were more – What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life (she likes the Dusty Springfield version best) and she ended with The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Roberta Flack getting the nod this time). Kandace dedicated her own lovely ballad Unsophisticated to the late Roy Hargrove, who died not long after recording this tune on her recent Indigo album.

So it was a freewheeling sort of show, a young performer ranging far and wide over a repertoire that has shaped her still-developing style. And much as she claims Nina Simone as her role model, I think she’s more like a modern-day Shirley Horn. If Kandace Springs is this good with ballads at the age of 29, imagine what she’ll be like by the time she reaches her 40s…

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