January sees the publication of Message to Our Folks a new book on the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the seminal avant garde band spawned by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1966.
Paul Steinbeck, an academic at Washington University in St. Louis, scrutinises their extraordinary musical times in the book.
Published by the University of Chicago Press, Roscoe Mitchell, a founding member of the Ensemble, comments on the publisher’s website, and above second from the left pictured on the cover: “This book is more than we could have hoped for, telling the complete history of the Art Ensemble of Chicago in careful, engaging detail.”
Sat in a booth by the stage as the jazz club filled, the house Steinway nudged more towards the centre specially for the performance, the double bass of Sam Vickery and then the drums of Luke Flowers set up over towards the curtain that masked the former Pizza Express Jazz Club street entrance, Nashville’s Kandace Springs was on the radar of the late Prince long before any of us would ever know. The singer/pianist was returning to the club in front of a largely record biz and press crowd after an earlier warm up gig a few weeks ago before setting off to tour with Gregory Porter. Just a day and a half after a show-stealing performance at the Jazz FM Awards in Bloomsbury she was here playing the Soho basement club ahead of the summertime release of Soul Eyes, the title track of her Blue Note Larry Klein-produced label debut, the Mal Waldron words and tune that she sang and played for the second time this week to London audiences, her effortlessly certain sunny blues-drenched mezzo charting a sound that has plenty of room for a big swathe of references stylistically, from an Alicia Keys marker in the curl of her accented beats working back to Roberta Flack and further to the days when jazz, blues and soul were a circle united. She shows they still are even if she is clearly destined for bigger stages and not just as a support. Accompanying herself with a lightness of touch, a jazz sensibility and more, those augmented chords and knowing progressions part of her cool, maybe playing like Nina Simone would a Billy Taylor tune, she opened with ‘Novocaine Heart’ and besides ‘Soul Eyes’, and with 1970s songwriter Judie Tzuke (‘Stay With Me Till Dawn’) sat in front of her at a little table, ‘Place to Hide’ an instantly lit-up Tzuke co-write with Lucie Silvas and Graham Kearns that seems tailor made for a wider mainstream pop non-jazz public, and which also crops up on the new album, featured. Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,’ not on the album and the least effective of an otherwise excellent performance, the artificiality of these occasions notwithstanding, and Hoagy Carmichael jazz standard ‘The Nearness of You’ (no, it isn’t all just about your sweet conversation that she conjured best from Ned Washington’s words), a song that Springs told us was inspired by Norah Jones’ example on Come Away With Me and convincingly interpreted in Springs’ own contemporary way. Springs has a natural looseness in her performance flow and plenty more you suspect that she kept under wraps necessarily with the drummer mainly limited to light brush strokes, the rhythmic lights turned down low in the intimate setting, and a way of caressing the soul, pop or jazz material that shows she’s all natural, her little ankle boots kicking down hard as her band swung and simply grooved to her.
Kandace Springs, 2016 revelation, live. Photo: Emrys Baird