Combining a voice of crystalline purity, a neat lyrical touch, some superb backing musicians and a few lushly romantic arrangements, Kaz Simmons' Dandelions has a gorgeous heart and a few twists and turns that surprise, delight and occasionally mystify by turn.
This is Simmons' third album: the second on her own Fast Awake label, following 2007's Different Smile. While she has referred to Dandelions as being "less jazz" than her previous recordings, which have featured standards like "Cheek To Cheek" and "Moon River," it might be more accurate to refer to the music as "different jazz," for she has by no means abandoned the genre, even if all of the songs here are original compositions and the core sound comes from her voice and finger-picked guitar. There is a definite jazz sensibility across the songs, just not the American Songbook sort.
Simmons' voice is a joyous thing, bright and welcoming, it somehow keeps sounding positive and optimistic even when her lyrics are more melancholy and reflective. Simmons refers to Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead as influences, while indie bands such as Blur and The Sundays have also been mentioned. But her vocal sound has much in common with British singers who emerged from the '60s and '70s folk scene, like Judy Dyble or Jacquie McShee.
The backing musicians include some of the finest young players on the British jazz scene, and an excellent string quartet that includes violinist Max Baillie, who has played with the innovative percussionist Sebastian Rochford. Their playing, coupled with bassist/co-producer Riaan Vosloo's arrangements, builds on Simmons' songs to create some beautiful moments.
"Stuck" is a delightful song, with its reference to the "wrong type of leaves on the tracks" that bring the British railway system to a halt. When Simmons sings that it will soon be Christmas, Ivo Neame's simple piano phrase immediately captures the sensation of winter. The beautiful "Almost," with just Simmons' voice and guitar, is sad but ultimately hopeful. On "The Wall" Simmons' voice is briefly reminiscent of Kate Bush while her arrangement mixes Sam Crockatt's tenor saxophone, Fulvio Sigurta's trumpet and her own backing vocals into a soft wash of sound. "The Dandelion Song," characterized by James Allsopp's lovely bass clarinet, finds Simmons at her most whimsicalat least so it seems at first. But the story of the man who "blew her away like a dandelion" may hint at something darker.
Three albums into her career Simmons now has the confidence to let her own songs take center stage, and rightly so. Dandelions charms and teases, tells stories, and conjures up moods and emotions to match.
Whatever; Stuck; Pachamama; the Dandelion Song; Almost; The Wall; Nice Life; The End.
Kaz Simmons: vocals, guitar; James Allsopp: clarinet, bass clarinet; Ivo Neame: piano; Riaan Vosloo: bass guitar, double-bass, organ, other instruments; Dave Smith: drums, shaker; Benedic Lamdin: other instruments; Oli Langford: violin; Max Baillie: violin; Nazomi Cohen: viola; Lucy Railton: cello; Fulvio Sigurta: trumpet, flugelhorn (2, 3, 6, 7); Sam Crockett: tenor saxophone (6); Simon Thorpe: double bass (2, 6); Tim Giles: drums (2, 4).
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