Kaz Simmons, Burton Bradstock and Fini Bearman at Smile Acoustic, Rich Mix, London, 1 June 2014


KazSimmons-300Hosted once a month by charismatic pianist and singer-songwriter, Arthur Lea, June’s singer-songwriter showcase session, Smile Acoustic at Rich Mix, featured three very different English acts – all of who are heavily influenced by jazz. It was a very ‘Sunday’, laid-back affair, and a veritable feast for those of us who love words. Lea’s cleverly catchy opener, ‘Take A Seat’ included an element of audience participation, which, though ear-splittingly loud, had the desired effect of bringing more people in to listen.

Kaz Simmons’ hero is the American-Canadian singer-songwriter and composer, Rufus Wainwright. Many of his compositions are opaque with references to opera, classical, pop and ragtime genres, and his influence can be clearly heard in Simmons’ tricky work: Belying her cute exterior is a hugely talented songwriter whose quirky songs are full of surprises. Accompanying herself on fingerpicked guitar, Simmons has a voice similar Kate Bush and the story-telling abilities of Victoria Wood, displayed throughout her highly amusing song, ‘Staying In’, about Internet dating. ‘Signs’ from her most recent album, Signs, contained an intriguing Kurt Weill-like twist, and her jazz roots were audible during a scat section in a song that personified London, entitled, ‘For the Love of the Big L’.

The most thought-provoking music of the evening came from Burton Bradstock, comprising of Jimmy Cannon on vocals and Dorian Ford on vocals and keyboard. Taken from their album, All Upon A Lovely Summer’s Day, their unusual jazz-folk work combined the simple but memorable scalic melodies of English folk songs such as ‘Salisbury Plain’ with foot-tapping rhythms and compelling bassy vocal harmonies built up in a round. There was a refreshing rawness about ‘John Barleycorn’, with its bluesy bass figure and Cannon’s staccato inflections, and the audience particularly got into the groove of ‘Train Song’ with its yummy lyric, “Love is a basket of light.”

FiniBearman-300Fini Bearman’s tribute to a friend of hers who passed away, ‘See the Sun’ was greeted with whoops from the audience. It had an emotional intensity about it that was heightened by the beauty of her multifaceted, soulful voice. Infused with wisdom and honesty, her lyrics enthralled, and her polished (albeit at times, self-conscious) offering – aided by an easy chemistry between herself and gifted acoustic guitarist, Rob Lamont, was unique in the way that it amalgamated contemporary jazz strains, the poetry of E. E. Cummings and a cover of a pop song by Justin Timberlake. Bearman’s new album, Porgy and Bess: Revisited is due for release this summer.

Most of the audience present admitted that they didn’t often go to see singer-songwriters perform, and so the fact that they came at all and were entertained, was testament to Lee’s commitment to the event, and of course free cake in the interval gave it that extra-pulling power!

– Gemma Boyd (review and photos)