It was impossible not to be won over early on by the Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s 2017 poster girl Kandace Springs. Looking like Scary Spice circa 1997 thanks to the combination of big hair and skin-tight, navel-baring attire – and displaying a similar youthful exuberance – Springs got the packed Spiegeltent crowd onside almost immediately thanks to her energy and charisma. Oh, and her playful sense of humour – much of it directed at her unlucky-in-love bass player.
George Square Spiegeltent ***
Which was just as well, as this 27-year-old rising star from the prestigious Blue Note stable initially served up a number of awfully repetitive dirges with unintelligible lyrics, the titles of which could only be deduced from those phrases that were repeated the most. Even the eloquent lyrics of Billy Strayhorn’s classic ballad Lush Life, later in the evening, got lost in the musical mix of Springs’s voice plus rhythm section.
Accompanying herself on either audience-facing Fender Rhodes or the grand piano to which she dived back and forth, Springs revealed a gorgeous, rich, velvety voice which was best showcased on more tuneful numbers. Sam Smith’s Stay With Me – the song which put her on the map and attracted the attention of no less impressive a mentor than Prince – was a step in the right direction, but it was two ballads from the 1930s, on which she played solo, without the repetitive rhythms of bass and drums, that she really shone.
In her hands, Duke Ellington’s Solitude and Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness of You both sounded fresh and as relevant as when they were first penned. Springs’s voice was utterly ravishing - lush, gentle and breathy – and it was worth sitting through the more disappointing numbers for those plus her stunning closer, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.
While Springs may have come to Edinburgh’s George Square from Nashville (via Prince’s Paisley Park), Georgia Cecile – who headlined the West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent on Wednesday evening – only had to travel from Glasgow. But, on the evidence of her jazz festival debut, she has quite a bit in common with the American singer.
Like Springs, she has a powerful, soulful voice (and American accent – but only when she sings), and it was heard to best effect on the numbers which were less cluttered with distracting rhythms being repeated over and over by bass and drums.
Anyone who watched the clips on the jazz festival website of Cecile singing standards might have been disappointed to find that she mostly steered clear of those in a set which was dominated by original material (written with her pianist Euan Stevenson), some of which – notably The Month of May, Come Summertime and Always Be Right For Me – worked much better than others in sustaining interest.