Kandace Springs’ emerges as a star on jazz scene
By Ron Wynn
There’s so much fresh and exciting talent in Nashville these days across the idiomatic board folks sometimes miss performers operating outside the pop/rock universe. But exciting, versatile vocalist Kandace Springs is generating so much buzz courtesy of her new (June release) Blue Note LP “Soul Eyes” that she’s garnering widespread praise and considerable attention outside the usual arenas of specialty radio, jazz clubs and festivals.
Springs, who’ll be appearing this week at the City Winery, has always been surrounded and immersed in music. She’s the daughter of veteran Music City R&B/soul stylist Scat Springs, a popular fixture both locally and across the region, and the family’s musical involvement also includes her aunts, uncles, a grandfather, even two great-grandfathers. Her 2014 self-titled four-song EP was produced by Pop & Oak, whose past clients include Rihanna and Nicki Minaji. Springs appeared on such shows as “David Letterman” and “Jimmy Kimmel,” while burning up the stage at both Bonnaroo and the AfroPunk festivals.
But despite her alluring, enticing delivery and impressive range ideal for the rhythmic tapestries urban and contemporary R&B producers prefer, Springs’ natural affinity for jazz, especially her flair with melodic interpretation and storytelling, were what resonated when Prince heard her version of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” on the Okayplayer website. He not only invited her to perform with him at Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain,” but urged her to follow her stylistic heart, rather than take the safe, more commercially viable, route.
The results can be heard throughout “Soul Eyes,” produced by Larry Klein. His forte is striking a balance for artists with a jazz foundation between adhering to the tradition’s mandates, yet finding ways of reaching wider audiences as previously demonstrated on sessions featuring Lizz Wright, Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell among others. This approach is evident most notably on the title track, which was written by pianist Mal Waldron. Waldron was formerly Billie Holiday’s pianist, and the tune was among her signature songs.
Springs’ version inserts a few more soulful flourishes while expertly navigating the originals’s prominent lengthy note turns and crisp phrases. With Terence Blanchard’s crackling trumpet soaring around and behind her inflections and expressive presentation, it’s a showcase for how an ace contemporary performer can update a classic tune without losing its flavor or altering its lyrical intent.
The evocative ballad “Rain Falling,” one of her compositions, displays both her writing style and ease at guiding a song through differing emotional stages, while her cover of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” reaffirms her ability to excel in a non-jazz framework. Another of Springs’ pieces “Too Good To Last,” has more of a blues edge in its story line, reinforced by Blanchard’s brilliant trumpet accompaniment.
With guitarists Dean Parks and Jesse Harris, organist Pete Kuzma and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta joining Blanchard in the strong musical corps behind her, Kandace Springs’ demonstrates on “Soul Eyes” she’s a most worthy addition to the ranks of topflight contemporary jazz vocalists, singers who adore and treasure the burden of mastering the Great American Songbook, but also have plenty to say to and for 21st century audiences.
(Kandace Springs appears this week at the City Winery).